Archive for March, 2011


March 30 2011

Back April 11.

In Solothurn

March 30 2011

Just another quiet European town many people haven’t heard of. The eponymous Baroque capital of Solothurn canton, Switzerland.

Tabula Regionum Europæ

Demonising Turks

March 30 2011

Or, in the nineteenth-century language of contempt, “the Turk”.

The concrete actions of Western Powers in war and diplomacy have mattered less, for good or evil, than the overwhelming though imponderable “suggestion” exercised upon the Turkish by the Western mind. We have injured the Turks most by making them hopeless and embittered. Our scepticism has been so profound and our contempt so vehement, that they have almost ceased to regard it as possible to modify them by their own action. They incline to accept these Western attitudes as fixed stars in their horoscope, with a fatalism which we incorrectly attribute to the teaching of their religion, without realising that our own conduct has been one of its potent causes. But while they are discouraged, they are not deadened to resentment. They see us in a light in which we too seldom look at ourselves, as hypocrites who make self-righteous professions a cloak for unscrupulous practice; and their master-grievance against us so fills their minds that it leaves little room for self-examination. If a charge is brought against them from a Western source, that is almost enough in itself to make them harden their hearts against it, however just it may be. They do not get so far as to consider it on its merits. They plead “not guilty,” and put themselves in a posture of defence, to meet what experience has led them to regard as one of the most effective strokes in the Western tactic of aggression. In 1921, I seldom found the Turks defend the fearful atrocities which they had committed six years previously against the Armenians, but repentance and shame for them were not uppermost in their minds – not, I believe, because they were incapable of these feelings, but because they were preoccupied by indignation at the conduct of the Allied Powers in fomenting a war-after-the-war in Anatolia. Remorse cannot easily co-exist with a grievance, and until we relieve the Turks of the one, we shall certainly fail, as we have done hitherto, to inspire them with the other.

This was not received wisdom in 1922. Much of it applies today rather obviously to Iran, which has suffered from Russian, British or American aggression for most of the past two hundred years.

The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

The soldier’s dream

March 29 2011

Late surrealism. Buñuel. The most dream-like dream in film, but the transfer looks as if it comes from a tape.

The Mughals’ helpers

March 28 2011

The Mughal conquerors of India reinforced their own scanty numbers with drafts of fellow Muslims from an Iranic [ie Perso-Turkish] World out of which they themselves had issued; and in their dearth of martial man-power they did not hesitate to accept recruits from among the barbarous Uzbegs who had driven Bābur out of Farghānah [into India] and the heretical qyzyl-bāshīs with whom he had allied himself, against his conscience, in a vain attempt to recover the Transoxanian heritage of his ancestor Timur from the Uzbeg invader. Yet even the most generous-handed sharing of the spoils of India with fellow Iranic Muslims enlisted at the eleventh hour did not give the Mughals the strength to complete the conquest of the peninsula, or even to hold securely what they had already won, against the obstinate resistance of the epigoni of earlier Muslim conquerors; and they found themselves constrained to sin against the spirit and tradition of Islam by enlisting the services of the infidel chivalry of their Rājpūt client states in their fratricidal wars against their True Believing rivals.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

The Ottoman Empire and the West, 1908-14

March 27 2011

The record of the West in its dealings with Turkey has been not only ungenerous but unscrupulous. This was forcibly illustrated by the attitude of the West in and after 1908, when the Turks tried to throw off their chains as the Greeks had done in 1821. Almost every Western Power took some selfish advantage of the situation. Austria completed her acquisition of Bosnia-Herzegovina by a formal annexation, and persuaded Bulgaria to give her countenance by a simultaneous repudiation of Ottoman suzerainty – both without provocation and in violation of the Treaty of Berlin [which had given Bulgaria de facto autonomy as a principality; from 1908 until 1946 the Bulgarian rulers called themselves Tsars]. Italy, after careful preparation, shamelessly invaded and seized the outlying Ottoman provinces of Tripoli and Benghazi, and thereby gave Turkey’s Near Eastern neighbours their long-sought opportunity to fall upon her and take from her almost all her remaining territories in Rumelia [Turkish possessions in the southern Balkans; this happened in the First Balkan War, summarised here]. Great Britain, though to her credit she did not attempt at that time to alter the status quo in Egypt [which was under nominal Ottoman suzerainty until 1914], adopted a supercilious if not hostile attitude, or at least (what had the same appearance from the Turkish angle of vision) she permitted such an attitude to be adopted by those who represented her at Constantinople. Germany guilefully assumed the role of the friend in need, in order to make Turkey subservient to her designs and to involve her, as it turned out, in their disastrous miscarriage. France alone [footnote: In 1908, Russia was temporarily paralysed by her recent defeat at the hands of Japan, but it was obvious in her case that only the power and not the will to injure Turkey was lacking.] can claim the negative distinction of not having rendered herself odious in some way or other to the Turks during the years between the Revolution of 1908 and the European War. This fact, which is generally overlooked in Great Britain, goes far to explain the recent comparative cordiality of Franco-Turkish relations.

The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

The LSE and Gaddafi

March 26 2011

On December 2 2010, the London School of Economics hosted a video-link conference with Colonel Gaddafi. Alia Brahimi, of LSE Global Governance, introduced it. It is not easy to pinpoint the moral nadir of Blairism (which is still alive), but this might be it. It was, of course, only a small part of the rapprochement with Gaddafi.

Saif and Tony

March 25 2011

The nation is needy and every rogue of the world wants a stake in London. Most recently the resulting chemistry happened between “Saif” (as Christiane Amanpour called him every few seconds in an interview at the weekend; she probably moved in his London circles) and Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, Prince Andrew, Anthony Giddens and Howard Davies.

Absurdly rather than scandalously, if we are speaking of neediness, it was revealed a few weeks ago that in 2009 Gordon Brown had, at the last moment, blocked the award of an honorary knighthood to Steve Jobs, a non-rogue, because Jobs had declined to speak at a Labour Party conference. The block was characteristically petulant of Brown, but why would Jobs have shown up at a political gathering in another country in order to prop up a failing prime minister?

Saif’s supervisor at the degree-selling LSE, David Held, recently published a book called Cosmopolitanism: Ideals, Realities and Deficits. The blurb says (my italics at the end): “In the second half of the book, chapters are devoted to some of the most pressing issues of our time – financial market crises, climate change, and the fallout from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In each of these areas, the author argues that realist politics is exhausted, and that cosmopolitanism is the new realism.” Explain if you can.

Blairism survives in the coalition. There was a Spectator piece in January about this in relation to domestic reforms. David Starkey said it on BBC television’s Question Time on March 3, referring to foreign policy and the moral tone. “Blairism’s great home is within the Murdoch empire and my great fear is that The Times and Murdoch and if you like Blairism is still at the heart of this government.”

For a wonderful vignette of the early Blair era, listen to an early In Our Time discussion with Melvyn Bragg from January 21 1999 (BBC Radio 4). The subject is Modern Culture. Instead of the gentle three- or four-way conversation about Wat Tyler or the age of the universe that we would get nowadays, it is a grilling of the conservative philosopher Roger Scruton by an almost unbearably patronising and pretentious Will Self and a pugnacious, and sharper than he acts nowadays, Melvyn Bragg.

They were attacking Scruton for not giving popular culture its due. Perhaps they had a point. My point is that the discussion takes one back to the early days of Blair and the period of Oasis and Irvine Welsh. It seems a long time ago.

I remember a television discussion on BBC2’s Newsnight Review at about the same time in which someone (Tony Parsons, I think) said: “We really must celebrate our criminal history. We had such a wonderful, vibrant criminal culture, etc”. I said to myself: “You middle-class [……].”

Going back further, I remember a radio discussion on BBC Radio 4 in another Labour era, the late ’60s, in a series called A Word in Edgeways, introduced by a broadcaster called Brian Redhead. It was about obscenity. One of the panelists said: “Victorian hymns are the real obscenity [in our society].”

Blair’s love of cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism came, I can’t help believing, not from any humane feelings but from an instinct that they would benefit the political class by fragmenting the popular will and creating opportunities for patronage. True, broadly-based social mobility almost ceased under “New Labour”, but there was great fluidity near the top.

The British and French find it difficult to give up imperial gestures, but Sarkozy’s pleasure in his new role is the most evident. Two pieces in Foreign Policy more or less make this point and also some less trivial ones: by Arthur Goldhammer and Cameron Abadi.

Saif’s mask has been stripped off. Like Gamal Mubarak, Bashar al-Assad and many a Saudi prince, he came to London but was unable, in the end, to escape from his family.

Was Obama’s uneasy commitment of his forces in Libya constitutional? Nobody from the US, UK or France is going to Libya to fight on the ground as if they mean it, as their forbears, even Americans, went to Spain.

Over the edge

March 24 2011

With the great gale we journey
That breathes from gardens thinned,
Borne in the drift of blossoms
Whose petals throng the wind;

Buoyed on the heaven-heard whisper
Of dancing leaflets whirled
From all the woods that autumn
Bereaves in all the World.

And midst the fluttering legion
Of all that ever died
I follow, and before us
Goes the delightful guide,

With lips that brim with laughter
But never once respond,
And feet that fly on feathers,
And serpent-circled wand.

[Footnote: Housman, A. E.: A Shropshire Lad, xlii.]

If one is really going to walk over the edge of a precipice, is it not best to let oneself be led over it in this agreeable way by Hermes Psychopompus?

Leaves and men

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939

Nesta rua, nesta rua

March 23 2011

Played by Beatriz Salles.

One of sixteen piano pieces by Heitor Villa-Lobos from 1926 called Cirandas, or Round Dances, first performed by Tomás Terán, Teatro Lírico, Rio de Janeiro, August 13 1929. The title (In this Street, in this Street) comes from a (rather dreary: it nearly spoils the piece) Brazilian folk tune which appears at 1:00.

I linked here to three scintillating piano miniatures from 1939: the most charming music ever written about stars.

The Hossbach Memorandum

March 22 2011

Among the official documents [of any era] with which the writer of this Study happened to be acquainted, the Hossbach Memorandum of the 10th November, 1937, recording the minutes of a conference held in the Reichskanzlei, Berlin, on the 5th November [setting out Germany’s expansionist plans], was perhaps the only one that, by any stretch of the imagination, could be supposed to have been manufactured out of deference to an academic ideal. At any rate, the writer of this Study could not think of any credible motive for putting this incriminating record on paper except a concern to facilitate the future task of the Nazi war-criminals’ historian-prosecutors.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

Phoney War

March 21 2011

The eerie quiet of Tokyo (BBC).

The last city, outside a war zone, to be faced by the possibility of a disaster on this scale was Hong Kong during the SARS epidemic in the first half of 2003.

Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags (1942) is set during the Phoney War, the phase of the Second World War in Britain and France from September 3 1939 to May 10 1940, and just afterwards.


“In the week which preceded the outbreak of the Second World War – days of surmise and apprehension which cannot, without irony, be called the last days of peace – and on the Sunday morning when all doubts were finally resolved and misconceptions corrected, three rich women thought first and mainly of Basil Seal. They were his sister, his mother and his mistress.”


“[Basil] had told them [that there would be no war] the night before, not as a speculation, but as a fact known only to himself and half a dozen leading Germans; the Prussian military clique, he had told them, were allowing the Nazis to gamble just as long as their bluff was not called; he had had this, he said, direct from von Fritsch. The army had broken the Nazi party in the July purge of 1936; they had let Hitler and Goering and Goebbels and Ribbentrop remain as puppets just as long as they proved valuable. The army, like all armies, was intensely pacifist; as soon as it became clear that Hitler was heading for war, he would be shot.”


“The air raid scare seemed to be over for the time and those who had voluntarily fled from London were beginning to return, pretending that they had only been to the country to see that everything was all right there. The women and children of the poor, too, were flocking home to their evacuated streets. The newspapers said that the Poles were holding out; that their cavalry was penetrating deep into Germany; that the enemy was already short of motor oil; that Saarbrucken would fall to the French within a day or two; air raid wardens roamed the hamlets of the kingdom, persecuting locals who walked home from the inn with glowing pipes. Londoners who were slow to acquire the habit of the domestic hearth groped their way in darkness from one place of amusement to another, learning their destination by feeling the buttons on the commissionaires’ uniforms; revolving, black glass doors gave access to a fairy land; it was as though [“as though” is not quite right here], when children, they had been led blindfold into the room with the lighted Christmas tree. The casualty list of street accidents became formidable and there were terrifying tales of footpads who leaped on the shoulders of old gentlemen on the very steps of their clubs, or beat them to jelly on Hay Hill [Mayfair].”


“Winter set in hard. Poland was defeated; east and west the prisoners rolled away to slavery. English infantry cut trees and dug trenches along the Belgian frontier. Parties of distinguished visitors went to the Maginot Line and returned, as though from a shrine, with souvenir-medals. Belisha was turned out; the radical papers began a clamour for his return and then suddenly shut up. Russia invaded Finland and the papers were full of tales of white-robed armies scouting through the forests. [The Finns used more white camouflage than the Russians.] English soldiers on leave brought back reports of the skill and daring of Nazi patrols and of how much better the blackout was managed in Paris. A number of people were saying quietly and firmly that Chamberlain must go. The French said the English were not taking the war seriously, and the Ministry of Information said the French were taking it very seriously indeed. Sergeant instructors complained of the shortage of training stores. How could one teach the three rules of aiming without aiming discs?”


“This was February 1940, in that strangely cosy interlude between peace and war, when there was leave every week-end and plenty to eat and drink and plenty to smoke, when France stood firm on the Maginot line and the Finns stood firm in Finland, and everyone said what a cruel winter they must be having in Germany.”


“A quiet day at the Ministry of Information. The more energetic neutral correspondents had mostly left the country by now, finding Axis sources a happier hunting-ground for front page news. The Ministry could get on with its work undisturbed. That afternoon a film was showing in the Ministry theatre; it dealt with otter-hunting and was designed to impress neutral countries with the pastoral beauty of English life.”


“Summer came and with it the swift sequence of historic events which left all the world dismayed and hardly credulous; all, that is to say, except Sir Joseph Mainwaring, whose courtly and ponderous form concealed a peppercorn lightness of soul, a deep unimpressionable frivolity, which left him bobbing serenely on the great waves of history which splintered more solid natures to matchwood. Under the new administration he found himself translated to a sphere of public life where he could do no serious harm to anyone, and he accepted the change as a well-earned promotion. In the dark hours of German victory he always had some light anecdote; he believed and repeated everything he heard; he told how, he had it on the highest authority, the German infantry was composed of youths in their teens, who were intoxicated before the battle with dangerous drugs; ‘those who are not mown down by machine guns die within a week,’ he said. He told, as vividly as if he had been there and seen it himself, of Dutch skies black with descending nuns, of market women who picked off British officers, sniping over their stalls with sub-machine guns, of waiters who were caught on hotel roofs marking the rooms of generals with crosses as though on a holiday post card. He believed, long after hope had been abandoned in more responsible quarters, that the French line was intact. ‘There is a little bulge,’ he explained. ‘All we have to do is to pinch it out,’ and he illustrated the action with his finger and thumb. He daily maintained that the enemy had outrun his supplies and was being lured on to destruction. Finally [after Dunkirk], when it was plain, even to Sir Joseph, that in the space of a few days England had lost both the entire stores and equipment of her regular army and her only ally; that the enemy were less than twenty-five miles from her shores; that there were only a few battalions of fully armed, fully trained troops in the country; that she was committed to a war in the Mediterranean with a numerically superior enemy; that her cities lay open to air attack from fields closer to home than the extremities of her own islands; that her sea-routes were threatened from a dozen new bases, Sir Joseph said, ‘Seen in the proper perspective, I regard this as a great and tangible success. Germany set out to destroy our army and failed; we have demonstrated our invincibility to the world. Moreover, with the French off the stage, the last obstacle to our proper understanding with Italy is now removed. I never prophesy, but I am confident that before the year is out they will have made a separate and permanent peace with us. The Germans have wasted their strength. They cannot possibly repair their losses. They have squandered the flower of their army. They have enlarged their boundaries beyond all reason and given themselves an area larger than they can possibly hold down. The war has entered into a new and more glorious phase.’

“And in this last statement, perhaps for the first time in his long and loquacious life, Sir Joseph approximated to reality; he had said a mouthful.”


“This is the country of Swift, Burke, Sheridan, Wellington, Wilde, TE Lawrence, [Ambrose] thought; this is the people who once lent fire to an imperial race, whose genius flashed through two stupendous centuries of culture and success, who are now quickly receding into their own mists, turning their backs on the world of effort and action. Fortunate islanders, thought Ambrose, happy, drab escapists, who have seen the gold lace and the candlelight and left the banquet before dawn revealed stained table linen and a tipsy buffoon!”


“The grey moment was passed; Sir Joseph, who had not ceased smiling, now smiled with sincere happiness.

‘There’s a new spirit abroad,’ he said. ‘I see it on every side.’

And, poor booby, he was bang right.”


My Back Garden exhibited 1940 by Sir George Clausen 1852-1944

My Back Garden, painted by my great grandfather, George Clausen, in his 88th year during the Phoney War.

It was a long last look at the garden of the house in Carlton Hill that he had bought in 1905. “As the bombs began to fall”, according to some family accounts, but probably a little earlier, he and Agnes Clausen left London to live with their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren at Cold Ash in Berkshire.


March 20 2011

I (like some, I imagine, in the Mezzogiorno) find it hard to take the Risorgimento seriously, but these are the days of its 150th anniversary.

So in homage to GM Trevelyan, here is his trilogy, which is worth reading after a hundred years despite everything (it’s annoying how abebooks is being clogged up with modern remainders and print on demand), and then an Inno, though not Verdi’s multinational Inno delle nazioni:

Garibaldi’s Defence of the Roman Republic 1907

Garibaldi and the Thousand 1909

Garibaldi and the Making of Italy 1911

Victor Emmanuel II

Inno di Garibaldi

Trevelyan later published

Manin and the Venetian Revolution of 1848 1923

What it is like to be Shiite

March 19 2011

Hamid Dabashi, Shi’ism: A Religion of Protest.

Recommended at Marginal Revolution.

Pearl Square 2

March 19 2011

What the protestors in Bahrain want, articulated in Arabic by a journalist, Hani Al-Fardan, at and given in translation in this blog.


“We want a genuine political life in which the people alone are the source of powers and legislation.

We want a constitution drawn up by the people, and agreed upon, which is the arbitrator and judge in the relationship of the ruler to the ruled.

We want genuine and fair elections based on fair foundations and the distribution of constituencies in which the vote of every individual Bahraini is equal.

We want genuine representation, without the accusation of treason whenever we go out to demand our rights.

We want a Council of Representatives that reflects the composition of the Bahraini people, without the majority being a minority and the minority a majority.

We want a government that is elected, based on people’s competencies rather than ‘loyalties’.

We want to fight corruption and stop the plundering of resources, and achieve a fair distribution of wealth.

We want to stop nepotism, and to prevent recruitment according to affiliation, and to open all sectors, especially the military, to all people.

We want an end to indiscriminate political naturalisation, which has increased the burden on services and oppressed people.

We want true freedom, without a law against ‘terrorism’ and ‘gatherings’.

We want true media freedom, and the door to be opened for everyone to express their opinions freely and without fear.

We want security in villages and towns, and the release of political prisoners and the reform of prisons, and the end of oppression, torture and intimidation.

We want genuine solutions to the problems of unemployment, housing, education, and health.

We want the police to ‘serve the people’, and we want the army to be of the people.

This is truly what we want; we do not want to overthrow the regime, as many imagine, and we do not want to gain control of the government, we do not want chairs and seats here or there. We want to be a people living with dignity and rights.”


The US will spend $110 billion this year supporting the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pearl Square

Tahrir Square, Sanaa

March 19 2011

This post on Britain in Yemen gave some elementary background on the country, and bare facts about the Shiite north and Sunni south, up to unification in 1990.

Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose removal and trial are now being demanded, has been in power since 1990.

Sanaa is the post-1990 capital. Tahrir means Liberation. I presume that liberation here refers to the overthrow of the Imams in 1962. Other Tahrir Squares are in Alexandria and Baghdad and, of course, Cairo.

Tahrir Square, Sanaa, February 11, from; there have been similar demonstrations in Aden and Taiz

At Gandhi’s shrine

March 18 2011

When, on my last visit to Delhi [1957], I was standing by Gandhiji’s shrine, to pay reverence to him, I was thinking to myself: Has there ever been another case in which a leader in a successful struggle for political liberation has been a benefactor, not only to his own people, but also to the nation from whose rule he has helped his own people to free themselves? Gandhiji made it impossible for the people of my country to go on ruling India, and at the same time he did this in a way that made it possible for the British to withdraw without irretrievable discredit or disgrace. I should say that Gandhiji’s service to my country has been not much less great than his service to his own country. I do not think this is an exaggeration. It is comparatively easy to take possession of an empire; but it is fearfully difficult to give up possession when once it has been acquired. When a government meets with resistance, however legitimate morally, it is so easy for it to fall into trying to maintain its authority by force; and, if once the struggle has taken a violent form, there is no happy way out for either party, and no creditable way either, for the ruling party at any rate. This has been one of the commonest tragedies of history. Gandhiji saved Britain, as well as India, from that, and he did it by inspiring the people of India to keep the struggle on a spiritual plane that was above the level of mere politics.

If Gandhi hadn’t lived, would Britain really have tried to hold onto India by brute force? With Gandhi there, it still delayed its withdrawal for as long as possible.

Dhanjaya Bhat, The Tribune, Spectrum supplement, February 12 2006:

“Which phase of our freedom struggle won for us Independence? Mahatma Gandhi’s 1942 Quit India movement or the [Axis-sympathising] INA army launched by Netaji Bose to free India or the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny of 1946? According to the British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, during whose regime India became free, it was the INA and the RIN Mutiny of February 18-23 1946 that made the British realize that their time was up in India.”

Toynbee text from the third of three Azad Memorial Lectures delivered in New Delhi in 1960. Nehru gave the first series in 1959, Attlee the third in 1961. List to 2009. Maulana Azad was a Muslim who had opposed partition, the first Education Minister after independence and the founder of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.

One World and India, New Delhi, Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Orient Longmans Private Ltd, February 1960

Before 1914

March 17 2011

[…] criminally irresponsible day-dreams of more frisch fröhlich six-weeks’ wars […].

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Looting and spitting

March 16 2011

You can’t imagine the Japanese looting. Or spitting.

Ruhe, meine Seele!

March 15 2011

Ruhe, meine Seele! is the first of four settings of various poets in Strauss’s opus 27, a set composed in 1894 as a wedding present for his wife. The words are by Karl Henckell. It was originally for voice and piano and was the last of the four to be orchestrated. He arranged it in 1948, after he had completed one of his Four Last Songs, Im Abendrot.

Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, George Szell, Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin.

Nicht ein Lüftchen regt sich leise,
sanft entschlummert ruht der Hain;
durch der Blätter dunkle Hülle
stiehlt sich lichter Sonnenschein.

Ruhe, ruhe, meine Seele,
deine Stürme gingen wild,
hast getobt und hast gezittert,
wie die Brandung, wenn sie schwillt.

Diese Zeiten sind gewaltig,
bringen Herz und Hirn in Not –
ruhe, ruhe, meine Seele,
und vergiß, was dich bedroht!

Not a breeze is stirring lightly,
the wood lies slumbering gently;
through the dark cover of leaves
steals bright sunshine.

Rest, rest, my soul,
your storms have gone wild,
have raged and trembled
like the surf when it breaks.

These times are powerful,
bringing torment to heart and mind;
rest, rest, my soul,
and forget what is threatening you!

Die heil’gen drei Könige

Chinese warship in the Mediterranean

March 15 2011

On February 24 the Xuzhou, patrolling piracy off Somalia, was diverted to the Libyan coast to give protection to Chinese civilian vessels (and aircraft) as they rescued Chinese workers.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy has staged joint exercises and visited ports all round the world in recent years: Chinese warships visited Egypt, Italy and Greece in 2010. But it has never, until now, launched an operation in the Mediterranean.

India and South Korea are also sending warships to help evacuate their citizens from Libya.

Chinese in Naples, September 19 1823

A late antique tsunami

March 14 2011

Adrian Murdoch quotes Ammianus Marcellinus’s description of the tsunami which hit Alexandria, the Nile Delta and Libya in AD 365 after an earthquake near Crete.

“Huge ships, thrust out by the mad blasts, perched on the roofs of houses […] at Alexandria.”

The most powerful earthquake ever recorded, off southern Chile on May 22 1960, caused a tsunami which killed 140 people in Japan.

Fishing boat at Ofunato, Iwate prefecture in 1960 (Ofunato was entirely destroyed in the recent Sendai earthquake)

The 1933 Sanriku earthquake, conversely, had been off Iwate prefecture and caused a tsunami which reached Chile.

The recent Sendai earthquake, the most powerful ever recorded in Japan, also caused a tsunami which reached Chile.

Otsuchi, Iwate prefecture in 2011

Wikipedia on the 365 tsunami: “The sophist Libanius and the church historian Sozomenus appear to present it as either divine sorrow or wrath – depending on their viewpoint – for the death of emperor Julian.”

Wikipedia list of historical tsunamis.

Terror and hypocrisy

March 13 2011

Robin Yassin-Kassab on children in the Occupied Territories.

Earthquakes in Japan

March 13 2011

Bombing Japan

Yokohama 1923

Earthquakes with 1,000 or more casualties since 1900. Richter scale unless otherwise stated.

September 1 1923 – Great Kanto – 8.3

Epicentre beneath Izu Oshima island, Sagami Bay, Honshu. Struck Kanto plain at 11:58 am. Devastated Tokyo and Yokohama and surrounding prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa and Shizuoka. 100,000 to 142,000 deaths, mostly in fires. Latter figure including 40,000 missing and presumed dead.

Koreans, Chinese and Okinawans were made scapegoats. Koreans were accused of arson, looting and well-poisoning: thousands were murdered. Japanese used the shibboleth ba bi bu be bo (ばびぶべぼ) to distinguish them from the ruling race, as the Koreans would say pa, pi, pu, pe, po.

Wikipedia list of shibboleths (fascinating).


March 27 1927 – Kita Tango – 7.6

Epicentre in Tango peninsula, Sea of Japan, Honshu, Kansai region (regions are not official administrative units), Kyoto prefecture. Destroyed almost all houses in Mineyama (now part of Kyotango). Felt in Tokyo and Kagoshima. 3,020 deaths.


March 2 1933 – Sanriku – 8.4 (moment magnitude scale)

Epicentre in Pacific 290 kilometres east of Kamaishi, Honshu, Tohoku region, Iwate prefecture. Most damage caused by subsequent tsunami, to towns on Sanriku coast. Over 3,000 deaths.


September 10 1943 – Tottori – 7.2

Epicentre in Sea of Japan off Ketaka, now part of Tottori city, Honshu. Felt in Tottori prefecture and 170 kilometres away at Okayama on the Inland Sea. 1,083 deaths. Although it occurred during the war, information was uncensored and relief volunteers and supplies came from many parts of the Japanese empire, including Manchukuo.


December 7 1944 – Tonankai – 8.1

Epicentre in Pacific about 20 kilometres off Shima Peninsula, Honshu, Kansai region, eastern Mie prefecture. 1,000 deaths, many from tsunami.


January 13 1945 – Mikawa – 6.0

Epicentre in Pacific, Mikawa Bay, Honshu, off Kansai region and Mie and Aichi prefectures, at depth of eleven kilometres. 6.0 reading was for Tsu in Mie. 1,180 dead, 1,126 missing. Information was censored, which contributed to large number of deaths.


December 20 1946 – Nankaido – 8.1

Epicentre in Pacific, Nankai Trough, off Honshu. Felt in Nankaido region and less strongly from Northern Honshu to Kyushu. 1,362 deaths.


June 28 1948 – Fukui – 7.1

Epicentre near Maruoka, on Sea of Japan, Honshu, Fukui prefecture. Felt most strongly in Fukui city. 3,769 deaths.


January 17 1995 – Great Hanshin – 6.8 (moment magnitude scale)

Epicentre at northern end of Awaji island, between Honshu and Shikoku. Felt most strongly in Kobe and southern part of Hyogo prefecture, Kansai region. Name Hanshin comes from the kanji used to write the names of Osaka and Kobe. 6,434 deaths.


March 11 2011 – Great Sendai – 8.9

Strongest in recorded Japanese history. Epicentre in Pacific, off Oshika peninsula, northeastern Honshu northeast of Sendai, east coast of Tohoku region, Miyagi prefecture. Created tsunamis. Total deaths not yet known, but will be fewer than Kanto/Tokyo (of course) and more than Hanshin/Kobe.

Images at LA Times.

All the earthquakes except Sanriku and Sendai mainly affected the main island, Honshu, at or south of Tokyo. Sanriku and Sendai mainly affected it north of Tokyo.

New building standards prevented several other strong post-1948 earthquakes from bringing heavier loss of life.

Kobe 1995


Bombing Japan

March 12 2011

Tokyo after March 9-10 1945

The first American air raid on Japan took place on April 18 1942, in retaliation for Pearl Harbor: the Doolittle Raid on military and industrial targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka.

America resumed bombing in June 1944 and continued until August 1945. From February 1945, large areas of cities were firebombed.

Night of February 24-25 1945 – Tokyo firebombing.

Night of March 9-10 1945 – extensive Tokyo firebombing. 80-100,000 deaths, the largest number before Hiroshima.

Night of March 11-12 1945 – Nagoya firebombing.

Night of March 13-14 1945 – Osaka firebombing.

Night of March 16-17 1945 – Kobe firebombing.

Night of March 18-19 1945 – further Nagoya firebombing.

That marked the end of the first campaign.

Additional raids on cities, including smaller cities, took place up to August. Taking all non-nuclear bombing during the war into account, the percentages of the areas of Japanese cities that were destroyed were:

Toyama 99

Fukui 86

Tokushima 85.2

Fukuyama 80.9

Kofu 78.6

Kuwana 75

Hitachi 72

Nara 69.3

Tsu 69.3

Okayama 68.9

Mito 68.9

Takamatsu 67.5

Shizuoka 66.1

Tsuruga 65.1

Hachioji 65

Nagaoka 64.9

Maebashi 64.2

Matsuyama 64

Imabari 63.9

Gifu 63.6

Kagoshima 63.4

Toyohashi 61.9

Hamamatsu 60.3

Yokohama 58

Isesaki 56.7

Ichinomiya 56.3

Kobe 55.7

Kochi 55.2

Kumagaya 55.1

Tokyo 51

Akashi 50.2

Wakayama 50

Himeji 49.4

Hiratsuka 48.4

Tokuyama 48.3

Sakai 48.2

Saga 44.2

Choshi 44.2

Utsunomiya 43.7

Numazu 42.3

Shimizu 42

Kure 41.9

Sasebo 41.4

Ujiyamada 41.3

Chiba 41

Nagoya 40

Ogaki 39.5

Shimonoseki 37.6

Kawasaki 36.2

Omuta 35.8

Osaka 35.1

Yokkaichi 33.6

Omura 33.1

Okazaki 32.2

Kumamoto 31.2

Aomori 30

Oita 28.2

Miyakonojo 26.5

Miyazaki 26.1

Nobeoka 25.2

Fukuoka 24.1

Moji 23.3

Sendai 21.9

Yahata 21.2

Yawata 21

Ube 20.7

Amagasaki 18.9

Nishinomiya 11.9

Source, not in this order: Wikipedia.

YouTube comment on this clip:

“It is completely true to say that the Americans had a policy of using precision bombing in Europe and yet firebombed Japan. That is a historical fact. It is also true that on a few occasions – particularly towards the end of the war – the Americans bombed cities in Germany like Dresden and Berlin in support of the British. But that caused considerable disquiet in the American ranks and was never the general policy as it was in Japan.”

Is this too kind? Britain, at least, began area bombing Germany in early 1942. Bombing was supposed to undermine the morale of the civilian population and in particular of the industrial workers. Factories were no longer the main targets. Hamburg was firebombed in 1943.

Morning of August 6 1945 – enriched uranium nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima. 90% of city’s area destroyed. 140,000 deaths by end of 1945.

Morning of August 9 1945 – plutonium core nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki. 45% of city’s area destroyed. 80,000 deaths by end of 1945.

Both cities had been spared in earlier raids to allow a pristine environment for measurement of the damage caused by the atomic bomb.

Historians against AV

March 11 2011

The Times today. Text here. Signatories include Antony Beevor, Niall Ferguson, Robert Lacey, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Andrew Roberts, David Starkey, Alison Weir, Philip Ziegler.

Virgil the magician

March 10 2011

There was never a time – not even at the blackest nadir of a Western Dark Age – at which this Hellenistic Christian civilization did not “have” the poetry of Virgil in the sense of possessing manuscripts of the text and retaining a sufficient knowledge of the Latin language to be able still to construe the literal meaning of the words. Yet there were at least eight centuries, running from the seventh to the fourteenth century of the Christian Era inclusive, during which Virgil’s poetry was beyond the comprehension of even the most gifted, pious, and industrious Western Christian students of it, if we take, as our standard of what constitutes a genuine understanding, an ability to divine in Virgil’s poetry the meaning that had been intended by the poet himself and that had been duly apprehended by kindred spirits in his own world, from a contemporary Horace down to a fourth-century Servius and Augustine. Even a Dante, in whose spirit the first glimmer of an Italian renaissance of Hellenism was already beginning to dawn, saw in Virgil a figure which the historical Virgil would have taken, not for his own unassumingly human self, but for some augustly mythical Orpheus or Musaeus; and, in the mental vision of less enlightened Medieval Western souls, the true lineaments of the classical poet were still further transmogrified into the quite unrecognizable shape of a wonder-working magician who had left his mark on a Neapolitan landscape where the historical poet had lived a quiet life of literary seclusion and where his mortal remains had eventually been laid to rest in a tomb on the road between Naples and Puteoli. [Footnote: See Comparetti, D.: Virgilio nel Medio Evo, 2nd ed. (Florence 1896, Seeber), Parte Seconda: ‘Virgilio nella Leggenda Popolare.’]

Dante made Virgil his guide in Hell and most of Purgatory in The Divine Comedy. He mentions Virgil in De vulgari eloquentia, along with Ovid, Lucan and Statius, as one of the four regulati poetae.

In later antiquity Virgil was thought to have had the magical abilities of a seer. His “Messianic” Fourth Eclogue was said to have predicted the birth of Christ. The prediction helped Christians to be reconciled to him.

The sortes Virgilianae, the process of using Virgil’s poetry as a tool of divination, is found in the time of Hadrian and continued into the Middle Ages. A line would be selected at random and interpreted in the context of a current situation. The Old Testament was sometimes used for similar purposes. Compare the I Ching.

Macrobius in the Saturnalia credits the work of Virgil as the embodiment of all human knowledge and experience, mirroring the Greek conception of Homer.

The structure known as Virgil’s tomb is found at the entrance of an ancient Roman tunnel (the grotta vecchia) in the Parco di Virgilio in Piedigrotta, a district two miles from old Naples, near the Mergellina harbour, on the road heading north along the coast to Pozzuoli (Puteoli).

Roman bust at the entrance to “Virgil’s tomb”

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Ayin symbol

March 9 2011

I’ve been showing the Arabic ayin letter, which should be romanised as ʿ (ie an upside-down opening inverted comma, neither a 6 nor a 9), as ‘ (ie a right way up inverted comma or a 6).

Thus ʿIrāq becomes ‘Irāq. The mark does not display clearly here. I will correct old posts if I revisit them.

The Arab return

March 9 2011

Robin Yassin-Kassab: “Arabs never really achieved independence, for a variety of reasons. Corrupt elites in authoritarian Arab states have plundered the people’s wealth, obeyed the dictates of hostile superpowers against the people’s will, and entirely failed to build reasonable education or social welfare institutions. Civil society has been stifled. Now it seems that the Arab people are entering the power equation, and true independence may be at hand.”

There is a bigger picture here. After the Abbasid Caliphate, the Arab countries were to a great extent controlled by non-Arabs: Mongols, Mamluks, Persians, Ottoman Turks, Europeans and at the end by unrepresentative elites supported by the West. Libya has been a maverick, but the Berbers, too, had come under Ottoman and European control. This is, in a way, an attempt at a return.

Singing alone in Japan

March 8 2011

Children’s carnival

March 8 2011

As the Rio carnival ends, Nikolaus Mühle, Munich, October 6 2009, in a more wistful mood.

No 3, A manhã de pierrette, in Villa-Lobos’s Carnaval das crianças (1919-20).

The movements are

O ginête de pierrozinho (The little pierrot’s horse)
O chicote do diabinho (The whip of the little devil)
A manhã de pierrette (The pierrette’s morning)
Os guizos de dominòzinho (Little Red Riding Hood’s bells)
As peripécias do trapeirozinho (The adventures of the little ragpicker)
As traquinices do mascarado Mignon (The tricks of the little masked Mignon)
A gaita de um precoce fantasiado (The little jester’s pipe)
A folia de um bloco infantil (The frolics of a band of children)

Turned in 1929 (or 1921?) into the single-movement Mômoprecóce (Young Momo or Child Carnival King), fantasy for piano and orchestra, dedicated to the pianist Magda Tagliaferro, who gave its first performance (I presume with the Concertgebouw) in Amsterdam in 1929 under Pierre Monteux and recorded it with the French Radio National Orchestra in Paris in the ’50s under the composer. A second piano is required in the last section of both versions.

Goethe’s Mignon was a little Italian dancer, stolen from her family by circus performers in Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.

Finest recording of Carnaval das crianças: Roberto Szidon; of Mômoprecóce: Cristina Ortiz, New Philharmonia Orchestra under Vladimir Ashkenazy; or Magda Tagliaferro, which has appeared separately and is also in the EMI box Villa-Lobos par lui-même.

Assyria in London

March 8 2011

The British Museum acquires part of the large collection of Assyrian ivories discovered in Nimrud by Max Mallowan between 1949 and 1963. They go on display next month.

Mallowan was Director of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq from 1947 to 1961. In 2007 this was renamed British Institute for the Study of Iraq (Gertrude Bell Memorial). He was the second husband of Agatha Christie. She accompanied him on many of his digs.

She published They Came to Baghdad in 1951. It doesn’t have an archaeological setting, but Murder in Mesopotamia (pre-war, 1936) had been set against the background of the excavations at Ur, where Mallowan had been the assistant of Leonard Woolley.

The Nimrud ivories in Iraq were damaged when the museum in Baghdad was ransacked after the illegal invasion. Those which had been held back by the British Institute had been in storage in the UK and never exhibited (why not?). The Institute has donated a third of its collection to the Museum and sold it a further third. It will give the rest to Iraq.


Afghanistan in London

March 8 2011

Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World. British Museum until July 3.

This seems to be the same as the exhibition in Washington in 2008. The objects come from the Kabul Museum, most of whose artefacts were destroyed during the post-Soviet civil war (1989-96) and in the Taliban era (1996-2001).

The Old World’s eastern roundabout

Clichés about Afghanistan

Bamiyan Valley: empty niche of a Buddha destroyed in March 2001, and caves carved into the cliffs by Buddhist monks

The last Rajah

March 7 2011

Telegraph obituary.

A rough guide to British Malaya


March 6 2011

“The unpurged images of day recede;
The Emperor’s drunken soldiery are abed;
Night resonance recedes, night walkers’ song
After great cathedral gong;
A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins.”


Yeats, from Byzantium.

Julian at the Mysteries

March 5 2011

“But when he found himself in darkness,
in the earth’s dreadful depths,
accompanied by unholy Greeks,
and bodiless figures appeared before him
with haloes and bright lights,
the young Julian momentarily lost his nerve:
an impulse from his pious years came back
and he crossed himself.
The Figures vanished at once;
the haloes faded away, the lights went out.
The Greeks exchanged glances.
The young man said: ‘Did you see the miracle?
Dear companions, I’m frightened.
I’m frightened, friends. I want to leave.
Didn’t you see how the demons vanished
the second they saw me make
the holy sign of the cross?’
The Greeks chuckled scornfully:
‘Shame on you, shame, to talk that way
to us sophists and philosophers!
If you want to say things like that,
say them to the Bishop of Nicomedia
and his priests.
The greatest gods of our glorious Greece
appeared before you.
And if they left, don’t think for a minute
that they were frightened by a gesture.
It was just that when they saw you
making that vile, that crude sign,
their noble nature was disgusted
and they left you in contempt.’
This is what they said to him,
and the fool recovered from
his holy, blessed fear, convinced
by the unholy words of the Greeks.”


Julian at the Mysteries, from Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translators; George Savidis, editor, CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992, at

That website has an essay by GW Bowersock, The Julian Poems of C.P. Cavafy, from Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 7, 1981. Bowersock tells us that there are twelve Cavafy poems – published, withheld, finished, unfinished – about Julian. I blogged two of them before this post, which are finished: Μεγάλη συνοδεία εξ ιερέων και λαϊκών/A Great Procession of Priests and Laymen and Ο Ιουλιανός εν Νικομηδεία/Julian in Nicomedia.

A Great Procession and Julian at the Mysteries are the two Julian poems known to be early, from the 1890s. A Great Procession appears to have been rewritten in 1917. All the others were written between 1920 and 1933, though Bowersock speculates that Julian in Nicomedia may have dated from the ’90s too.

Five of the twelve were published during Cavafy’s lifetime, including A Great Procession and Julian in Nicomedia, but not Julian at the Mysteries.

“It has long been clear from the previously published poems that Cavafy did not much care for Julian. He shared none of the late romantic admiration for the last of the pagan rulers. Cavafy appears to have been obsessed with removing the glamour and exposing the fraud of this hero of latter-day pagans.”

Toynbee (who played a minor role in the introduction of Cavafy to Bloomsbury circles in the ’20s):

Julian’s state-supported pagan establishment collapsed in a trice at the news of the death of its Imperial architect and patron; and thereafter nothing remained of Iamblichus’s grandiose dream save a pathetically futile coterie of cranks.

Julian at the Mysteries, an early poem, from November 1896, was written at the time in which Cavafy was engaged in his critical reading of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall. Bowersock:

“The episode of Julian’s making the sign of the cross when he encountered demons in an underground cavern occurs in Gregory of Nazianzus, whose original text was in all probability familiar to Cavafy. But it was Gibbon [in chapter 23 of the Decline and Fall] who inferred from Gregory that Julian was at Eleusis: ‘He [Julian] [brackets in original] obtained the privilege of a solemn initiation into the mysteries of Eleusis … .’ Hence the [original] title O Iουλιανός εν Eλευσίνι. With the indisputable evidence we now have of Cavafy’s study of Allard in regard to the massacre of Julian’s family, it becomes almost certain that his study of the same author led to his alteration of the title of his earliest Julian poem. Allard argued at length against the supposition that Julian was initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries: ‘Les historiens modernes disent presque tous que Julien fut alors initié aux mystères d’Éleusis. Cela ne résulte pas clairement du texte d’Eunape … . Il me semble difficile que Julien ait Allard été initié … . Nulle part il [Julien] [brackets in original] ne laisse entendre qu’il ait reçu l’initiation d’Eleusis … .’ Hence a new title for an old poem.”

Bowersock tells us that Cavafy had a copy of Gregory of Nazianzus in the 1890s, but not later, and that, according to Cavafy, two unspecified poems remained incomplete because he did not have Gregory to hand for checking (he gives us only a secondary source for this statement). He seems to suggest that one of them was Julian at the Mysteries – but that does not seem (and is not classified as) incomplete.

He furthermore speculates that Julian at Nicomedia, although published in 1924, was written in the 1890s, since it depends in part on Gregory. But then why wasn’t Julian at the Mysteries published? Why isn’t Bowersock clearer on this?

“It is with Tα επικίνδυνα, published in November 1911, that Cavafy publicly declared himself a sensualist. Although the poem is not yet explicitly homosexual as later poems were to be, it is nonetheless a striking departure for Cavafy. It is especially notable for the conjunction of his historical interests with his advocacy of sensuality. The speaker is a young Syrian in the reign of Constans and Constantius, therefore precisely between A.D. 340 and 350, the years of Julian’s adolescence. These were the years in which Julian was raised a Christian and became a pagan […]. The young Syrian of this epoch is described as partly pagan and partly christianized: εν μέρει εθνικός, κ’ εν μέρει χριστιανίζων. He proclaims that he will not fear his passions, he will satisfy his most daring erotic proclivities. He repeats that he will not be afraid because he is confident that if he is called upon to be ascetic he will have the power to be so. The appearance of this poem [marks] a new stage in Cavafy’s life and oeuvre. He is moving, with the help of historical analogues, toward a reconciliation of his sexuality and his Christianity. The Syrian in Tα επικίνδυνα was partly Christian but still sensual, just as the Christian Myris in a poem of 1929 set in Alexandria of the year A.D. 340 had rejoiced in the love of a pagan. Inevitably Cavafy would have asked himself what impact Julian would have had on the Greek world of that Syrian youth or of Myris’ lover. This was a world in which pagans and Christians could associate easily with one another in unhindered pursuit of the sensual life. It was the avowed aim of Julian, the ascetic pagan, to put an end to all that.”

“Permissive Christianity, then, appears to be the fundamental interest of Cavafy in handling the various Julian episodes. To be a Christian did not preclude being a pagan in the old sense, like the young Syrian in Tα επικίνδυνα, nor did it preclude a romance with a pagan like Myris’ lover. In Antioch Cavafy found the resolution of the problem he began to solve in 1911 when he started to make his erotic verse public. It was no accident that the historical and sensual categories of his oeuvre tended to merge at times, as the writer of May 1927 observed [he has earlier described him as “the poet or a sympathetic associate”, but does not give a proper reference]; for Cavafy was able to interpret his own eroticism in terms of historical examples that preserved for him what he probably found more important than anything else: his Christianity and his consciousness of being Greek. In the Julian poems he struggled for historical accuracy because it was clearly imperative for him to know that there really had been a world that could accommodate a sensualist, both Christian and Greek.”

Whence the backdrop? Is it Chinese? It looks too heavy to be silk. From

A Study of History, Vol V, OUP, 1939

Julian in Nicomedia

March 4 2011

“Things impolitic and dangerous:
praise for Greek ideals,
supernatural magic, visits to pagan temples.
Enthusiasm for the ancient gods.
Frequent talks with Chrysanthios.
Speculation with Maximus, the astute philosopher.
And look what’s happened. Gallos is extremely worried.
Konstantios has become suspicious.
Julian’s advisors weren’t at all prudent.
The matter, says Mardonios, has gone too far,
the talk it has aroused must be stopped at all cost. —
So Julian goes to the church at Nicomedia,
a lector again, and there
with deep reverence he reads out loud
passages from the Holy Scriptures,
and everyone marvels at his Christian piety.”


Julian in Nicomedia, from Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translators; George Savidis, editor, CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992, at

Chrysanthius and Maximus were neoplatonist philosophers. Gallus was Julian’s half-brother; Constantius II was Julian’s cousin and predecessor as Emperor and finally co-Emperor with him before Julian succeeded outright. Mardonius, a Gothic eunuch, was Julian’s tutor in Nicomedia.

Constantius II, bust from Syria, Museum of Archaeology, University of Pennsylvania; Wikimedia Commons

Oecumenical empires

March 3 2011

After an oecumenical empire has gone into decline to the point of becoming practically impotent, its fainéant emperors still continue for generations and centuries to be the indispensable founts of legitimization for the usurpers who have carved out successor-states at their expense. An act of investiture at the hands of the legitimate emperor is required in order to secure the subjects’ acquiescence in the usurper’s rule; and this apparent formality is a matter of such practical importance that the most hard-headed usurpers take the greatest pains to obtain it, and make the greatest parade of it thereafter. An Odovacer, a Theodoric, and a Clovis ruled stolen western provinces of the Roman Empire as vicegerents of the Roman Imperial Government surviving at Constantinople; the Hindu Marāthās and the Christian British East India Company ruled in India as vicegerents of fainéant Muslim “Great Moguls” at Delhi; and most of the Christian successor-states of the Ottoman Empire were content to start life as autonomous principalities under the Padishah’s suzerainty before venturing to claim sovereign independence for themselves.

Moreover, even after a moribund oecumenical empire has at last received its long delayed coup de grâce, there may be attempts, and even repeated attempts, to resuscitate it. Classical examples of such renaissances are the resuscitation of the Ts’in and Han Empire in China by the Sui and T’ang dynasties; the resuscitation of the Roman Empire in Orthodox Christendom, first as the Byzantine Empire and then as “Moscow the Third Rome”; the three avatars of the Roman Empire in Western Christendom that were conjured up successively by Charlemagne, by Otto I, and by the Hapsburgs; and the Ottoman Empire’s attempt, from the end of the eighteenth century of the Christian Era onwards, to revive its drooping prestige by posing as an avatar of the Arab Caliphate.

An oecumenical empire’s hold over its worshippers’ hearts is […] both strong and well deserved; and yet even an oecumenical empire is an unsatisfying object of worship, whether it offers itself for adoration in an institution or in a person. The institutional representation of the idol will be too remote, impersonal, and aloof to win sufficient affection, while the personal incarnation of it will be too familiar and unworthy to inspire sufficient respect.

The impersonalness of an oecumenical empire as an institution makes itself felt in the remoteness of its metropolis from the daily life of the great majority of its subjects. Now that Rome’s citizens are deployed as far afield as Cadiz, Bayrut, and Cologne, and now that Rome has no need to call them to arms for her defence against neighbouring rival Powers, Dea Roma can no longer inspire, even in their hearts, the same love and devotion as when every Roman citizen lived and worked within a day’s march of the Capitol and might be called upon, in any campaigning season, to fight for Rome against Clusium or Samnium. A fortiori, a subject of the Roman Empire who is a citizen of Sparta or Athens, or some other once sovereign independent city-state of glorious as well as shameful memory, will not be able to worship Dea Roma with anything like the conviction and enthusiasm with which he has once worshipped Athana [or Athena] Chalcioecus [in Sparta] or Athene Polias [in, inter alia, Athens, Argos, Sparta, Gortyn, Lindos, Larisa]. The thrill which he then felt can be recaptured by a Modern Western pilgrim when he stands on the acropolis of Athens at the spot where Pheidias’ statue of the Attic Athene once stood, and stares at the peak of Aegina and the pinnacle of Acrocorinthus a stone’s throw away, just across the Saronic Gulf. As he gazes, the figures of a Corinthian Poseidon and an Aeginetan Athana Aphaia rise up, before his inward eye, to bid defiance to the queen of Athens. The parochial goddess was a very present help against her rival over there, before Dea Roma’s long arm put them both down from their seats. Dea Roma, the ubiquitous policewoman, cannot mean anything like as much as this to her Athenian clients, even when they have eventually been granted Roman citizenship, or even when the value of Rome’s service to their Hellenic Civilization has been brought home to them in the third century of the Christian Era by a recurrence of the danger of social collapse.

An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956

Shahbaz Bhatti

March 2 2011

Pakistan’s minorities minister (1968-2011).

Salmaan Taseer (1944-2011).

Depredations of the Ottomans

March 1 2011

“This Empire, as vast and large as it is, is yet dispeopled, the villages abandoned, and whole provinces as pleasant and fruitfull as Tempe or Thessaly uncultivate and turned into a desart or wilderness – all which desolation and ruine proceeds from the tyranny and rapine of the Beglerbegs and Pashaws; who either in their journies to the possession of their Government, or return from thence, expose the poor inhabitants to violence and injury of their attendants, as if they had entred the confines of an enemy or the dominions of a conquered people. In like manner, the insolence of the horse and foot is unsupportable; for, in their marches from one countrey to another, parties of 20 or 30 are permitted to make excursions into divers parts of their own dominions, where they not onely live upon free quarter but extort money and cloaths from the poor vassals, taking their children to sell for slaves, … so that, rather than be exposed to such misery, and licence of the soldiery, the poor people choose to abandon their dwellings and wander into other cities, or seek for refuge in the mountains or woods of the countrey.” (Rycaut, Sir Paul: The Present State of the Ottoman Empire (London 1668, Starkey and Brome), p. 170.)

Rycaut’s “Beglerbegs and Pashaws” reminds one of Gladstone’s “their Zaptiehs and their Mudirs, their Bimbashis and Yuzbashis, their Kaimakams and their Pashas”. The sixth edition of Rycaut (or part of it: how can you tell with Google Books?) is here.

Toynbee rarely or never writes “Ottomans”, but if his Turkish “Osmanlis” is correct, then so is an English “Ottomans”. Osmanli means “of or pertaining to Osman”, the founder. Is it a noun as well as an adjective in Turkish? Osman is the Turkish pronunciation of the Arabic Uthman, the name of the third Caliph.

A Study of History, Vol II, OUP, 1934 (footnote)

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