I Am Ashurbanipal

A Guardian review of a major exhibit at the British Museum (hat tip: Bill Campbell):

‘Some of the most appalling images ever created’

Whether wrestling lions or skinning prisoners alive, the Assyrian king ran a murderously efficient empire. This is the art of war – and it’s terrifying

By Jonathan Jones

You have to hand it to the ancient Assyrians – they were honest. Their artistic propaganda relishes every detail of torture, massacre, battlefield executions and human displacement that made Assyria the dominant power of the Middle East from about 900 to 612BC. Assyrian art contains some of the most appalling images ever created. In one scene, tongues are being ripped from the mouths of prisoners. That will mute their screams when, in the next stage of their torture, they are flayed alive. In another relief a surrendering general is about to be beheaded and in a third prisoners have to grind their fathers’ bones before being executed in the streets of Nineveh.

These and many more episodes of calculated cruelty can be seen carved in gypsum in the British Museum’s blockbuster recreation of Assyria’s might. Assyrian art makes up in tough energy what it lacks in human tenderness. It is an art of war – all muscle, movement, impact. People and animals are portrayed as fierce cartoons of merciless force.

Yet behind the conquests these eye-blistering reliefs depict, lay an intricate system of bureaucracy and a passion for logistics. I Am Ashurbanipal is a portrait of the banality of empire. Just as Hannah Arendt argued that the Holocaust was perpetrated by characterless paper-pushers, not flamboyant sadists, so we find here that Assyrian atrocities – including the forced resettlement of thousands of Israelites – were not the product of random mayhem but diligent organisation.

Read the whole thing. One question is: did this art actually reflect reality, or was it just propaganda to scare people into submission? (I suppose it must have been real on some level; at some point your threats have to be backed up with actual violence.)

I’m glad we don’t have to live under such a regime.

The Irish in America

The Wikipedia category “Irish emigrants to the United States (before 1923)” contains some 872 entries – that is, people notable enough to merit a Wikipedia article. This is really quite remarkable. Two of them have recently been brought to my attention, and deserve to be better known. From Wikipedia:

Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore (1829-1892) was an Irish-born American composer  and bandmaster who lived and worked in the United States after 1848. Whilst serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, Gilmore wrote the lyrics to the song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” This was published under the pseudonym Louis Lambert in September 1863…

In many ways Gilmore can be seen as the principal figure in 19th-century American music. He was a composer, and the “Famous 22nd Regiment March” from 1874 is just one example of his work. He held the first “Promenade Concert in America” in 1855, the forerunner to today’s Boston Pops. He set up “Gilmore’s Concert Garden”, which became Madison Square Garden. He was the Musical Director of the Nation in effect, leading the festivities for the 1876 Centennial celebrations in Philadelphia and the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886.

Ron Good adds (having heard RTE’s P.S. Gilmore: Ireland’s First Superstar):

He made adjustments to the inclusion of instruments in bands (i.e. the addition of woodwinds) which resulted what we know today as concert bands. He also used anvils specially made in England which gave off sparks when struck with the hammers of dozens of faux blacksmiths.  Also used artillery pieces to add excitement.

Also from Wikipedia, we have notice of:

Thomas Francis Meagher (“Marr”; 1823-1867) was an Irish nationalist and leader of the Young Irelanders in the Rebellion of 1848. After being convicted of sedition, he was first sentenced to death, but received transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) in Australia.

In 1852 he escaped and made his way to the United States, where he settled in New York City. He studied law, worked as a journalist, and traveled to present lectures on the Irish cause. He married for a second time in New York. At the beginning of the American Civil War, Meagher joined the U.S. Army and rose to the rank of brigadier general. He was most notable for recruiting and leading the Irish Brigade, and encouraging support among Irish immigrants for the Union. By his first marriage in Ireland, he had one surviving son; the two never met.

Following the Civil War, Meagher was appointed acting governor of the Montana Territory. In 1867, Meagher drowned in the swift-running Missouri River after falling from a steamboat at Fort Benton.

What a fascinating character.

November 5

On November 5, 1605, the House of Lords was supposed to have been blown up by a group of Roman Catholic conspirators who were disappointed that the newly-crowned King James had not relaxed the anti-Catholic policies of his predecessor, Queen Elizabeth. Had the plot succeeded, James would have been killed at the State Opening of Parliament, along with a good many other English grandees. But the plot was exposed, and the principal conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, who was found guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder that had been placed in the House of Lords, were all arrested, convicted, and executed.

“A late 17th or early 18th-century report of the plot.” Wikipedia.

Since that time, the Fifth of November has been celebrated as a triumph of British Protestantism against the wicked forces of papistry. To this day, it serves an excuse to throw a stuffed “Guy” (or even a pope) onto a bonfire, or at least set off fireworks (I lived in London once, and can attest to this). I assume that the anti-Catholicism of the celebration has been downplayed in recent years, and that the fifth of November is simply the British equivalent of Hallowe’en – an occasion of autumn revelry.

“A contemporary engraving of eight of the thirteen conspirators, by Crispijn van de Passe. Missing are Digby, Keyes, Rookwood, Grant, and Tresham.” Wikipedia.

I have always been curious why the Fifth of November fell out of favor in the American colonies. Why don’t we celebrate it here anymore? Why did the Irish custom of Hallowe’en take off in from the nineteenth century? Apparently George Washington found it embarrassing. As he wrote in 1775:

As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form’d for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope—He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain’d, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada.

Alas, such consideration was not enough to win the French colonists to the cause of Revolution (thus does Canada exist today!), but apparently it had a permanent effect.

But as I wrote before, the casting of Guy Fawkes as a sort of anarchist freedom fighter has been one of the more remarkable transformations I’ve ever witnessed.

Viking Tar

From Smithsonian.com:

Was the Vikings’ Secret to Success Industrial-Scale Tar Production?

Evidence suggests that the ability to mass-produce tar bolstered their trade repertoire and allowed them to waterproof and seal their iconic longships

The Vikings are often viewed as brutish, destructive village-pillagers, but their knack for innovation is perhaps overlooked. Viking-age Scandinavia was kind of the Silicon Valley of shipbuilding in the early medieval period. Their iconic longboat designs, advanced navigational skills, and perhaps even legendary sunstones gave them the ability to raid, trade and establish settlements as far away as Russia, Italy and North Africa. A new study adds another bit of technology to the list of things that gave Vikings a leg up on their adversaries: they may have been capable of making industrial scale quantities of tar, according to a new paper published in the journal Antiquity.

Tar was probably essential to the Vikings’ lifestyle since each longship would have required about 130 gallons of tar to coat all of its wooden elements, the study suggests. Tar was also needed to coat the ships’ wool sails, and the boats would need to be regularly re-tarred between voyages as well. Multiply all that to fit the needs of a fleet and we’re talking about a lot of tar here.

However, little was previously hypothesized about how they would have been able to produce the sticky substance en masse. The new study, authored by Andreas Hennius, an archaeologist from Uppsala University in Sweden, proposes a possible outline of how small scale tar production in the early centuries of the first millennium gave rise to potentially industrial use of tar by Vikings.

“I suggest that tar production in eastern Sweden developed from a small-scale household activity in the Roman Iron Age to large-scale production that relocated to the forested outlands during the Vendel/Viking Period,” Hennius writes in the paper. “This change, I propose, resulted from the increasing demand for tar driven by an evolving maritime culture.”

Read the whole thing. It’s interesting how many historians don’t tend to consider technology like this; thank goodness there are people who are willing to.

High School Textbooks

A laff from The Onion:

High School History Textbook Concludes With Little Blurb About Last 40 Years

EDISON, NJ—Immediately after dedicating 20 pages to the end of the Vietnam War and its aftermath, 11th-grade social studies textbook The American Vision awkwardly crammed the last 40 years of history into a little blurb titled “Into Our New Millennium.” “They spent a whole chapter on Teddy Roosevelt alone, but now they’re racing through the 1970s and just kind of stuffing Nixon’s resignation, the energy crisis, and the Iranian hostage situation into bullet points,” said student Russell Keener of the single-page spread, which somehow managed to encompass the attempted assassination of President Reagan, Rubik’s cubes, the Tiananmen Square protests, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. “It felt like we spent forever on the cotton gin, but now we’re just blazing through several decades like they’re nothing. One moment it’s the Lewinsky scandal, and the next we’ve got the first black president? It’s especially jarring when the last page has two thumbnail pictures, one of the Twin Towers falling and the other of a computer with a caption saying ‘The advent of the internet forever changed the way we see the world.’ Huh?” At press time, students reported not being certain how to take the book’s concluding sentence, which asked the question, “And who knows what will happen next?”

Georgia Medievalists’ Group, 11/3/18

Photo: JG

Wonderful meeting of the Georgia Medievalists’ Group yesterday at Georgia Tech. Thanks to Richard Utz, chair of the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, for serving as host. We had a great program, with plenty of stimulating discussion, and a special treat at the end of the day: David Leinweber of Oxford College singing some of his original history-themed songs, including numbers about the pilgrims of the Canterbury Tales, Philip II of Spain, and the White Ship disaster.

Photo: Richard Utz

The other presenters were:

Fernando Rochaix, Georgia State Univ., “Embodying Resistance: the Iconography of a Colonial Maya ‘Tree of Jesse’”

Kelly Ann Fitzpatrick, Georgia Tech, “Game of Thrones: Neomedievalism and the Myths of Inheritance”

Dina Khapaeva, Georgia Tech, “When Putin Plays the Game of Thrones: Neomedievalism in Life and Fiction”

Kristina Watkins Mormino, Georgia Gwinnett Coll., “‘Les valeurs que défendait Jeanne d’Arc’: Joan of Arc and the Rebranded French Far Right”

Bobby Meyer-Lee, Agnes Scott Coll., “Canterbury Tales E1213-44 and the Voice of the Merchant”

Graham Johnson, Reinhardt Univ., “Close Reading versus Pragmatics: Analysis of the Bjarni-Thorstein Duel at the end of The Tale of Thorstein Staff-Struck.”

Jonathan Good, Reinhardt Univ., “St. George and al-Khidr: A Case of Convergence?”

News from Dublin

A couple of items that I’ve just discovered:

• The relic of the heart of St. Laurence O’Toole, which had been stolen from Christ Church Cathedral in 2012, has been recovered and will be unveiled in a new setting on November 14, 2018. From the Diocesan website:

The heart of St Laurence O’Toole goes on permanent public display in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, from November 14, 2018. This occasion will be marked by free entry to the cathedral from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm, welcoming the people of Dublin to view the heart of the city’s patron saint.

A special ecumenical service of dedication and thanksgiving marking this historic occasion will be held that evening  at 5:45 pm. The Archbishop of Dublin, The Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson, will first bless and dedicate the redesigned grounds incorporating the new stone labyrinth. Following this the Archbishop will preside at a service of Festal Choral Evensong, sung by the Cathedral Choirs, during which he will bless and dedicate the new resting place of the heart of St Laurence O’Toole. This service will be open to the public and all are most welcome to attend.

St Laurence’s heart will be housed in a specially designed art piece, crafted by the renowned Cork–based artist Eoin Turner.

Commenting on this upcoming special day of celebration, the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, The Very Revd Dermot Dunne, stated, ‘I am delighted that we have two such tremendous reasons for celebration at this time. We are deeply grateful for the grant funding from Dublin City Council and Fáilte Ireland that has enabled the redesign and landscaping of our grounds. Further it is my great privilege and joy at this time to be able to return the heart of St Laurence to the people of Dublin.’

From Wikipedia:

[The relic] was recovered in Phoenix Park in 2018 after a tip-off to the Garda Síochána. Media reported that the unidentified thieves thought it was cursed and caused family members’ illnesses.

• As of two years ago, the arms of the United Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough (i.e., in the Church of Ireland) have been differenced with a gold bordure. From the website of the National Library of Ireland:

The relevant English text reads:

Whereas petition hath been made unto me [Colette O’Flaherty, Chief Herald of Ireland] by the Most Reverend Doctor Michael Geoffrey St. Aubyn Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin and Bishop of Glendalough, Primate of Ireland, setting forth that certain armorial ensigns have long been used and borne by the United Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough and do not appear to have been recorded in my office as pertaining unto the said United Dioceses and that he is desiring that the said arms might now be confirmed unto it with such differences as I might find appropriate.

This is most interesting. Ecclesiastical heraldry has traditionally been beyond the concern of secular heraldic authorities; only in the twentieth century was there a drive to get Anglican diocesan coats of arms regularized through the College of Arms. In Ireland, as noted earlier, there are two more-or-less identical church structures, one sponsored by the Church of Ireland, the other by the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, both claiming legitimacy and both employing the same heraldry. I’m curious about the politics here – what prompted the archbishop to get these arms confirmed by the Chief Herald of Ireland, and why did he agree that they should be differenced? Did the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin beat him to it? (Unfortunately the Genealogical Office does not have an online register of grants and confirmations that it has made, unlike the Canadian Heraldic Authority.)

Moon-Eyed People

From my former student Laura Craig, news of something I had not known about:

The moon-eyed people are a race of people from Cherokee tradition who are said to have lived in Appalachia until the Cherokee expelled them. They are mentioned in a 1797 book by Benjamin Smith Barton, who explains they are called “moon-eyed” because they saw poorly during the day. Later variants add additional details, claiming the people had white skin, that they created the area’s pre-Columbian ruins, and that they went west after their defeat. Barton cited as his source a conversation with Colonel Leonard Marbury (c.1749-1796), an early settler of Georgia. Marbury, a Revolutionary War officer and a Congressman in the Second Provincial Congress of Georgia (1775), acted as intermediary between Native American Indians in the state of Georgia and the United States government…

The Cherokee tradition may have been influenced by contemporary European-American legends of the “Welsh Indians”. These legends attributed ancient ruins to a Welsh pre-Columbian voyage; some versions specifically connect this voyage to a prince named Madoc. In an 1810 letter, former Tennessee governor John Sevier wrote that the Cherokee leader Oconostota told him in 1783 that local mounds had been built by white people who were pushed from the area by the ascendant Cherokee. According to Sevier, Oconostota confirmed that these were Welsh from across the ocean. Historian Gwyn A. Williams notes this is “a beautiful example of the way minds were working in the late eighteenth century – and of the power of suggestion which white minds could exercise over red”.

Author Barbara Alice Mann, who identifies herself as Ohio Bear Clan Seneca, suggests that “moon-eyed people” were Adena culture people from Ohio who merged with the Cherokees around 200 BCE.

The article does not deal with the connection between the purported expulsion of the Moon-Eyed People and Cherokee Removal in the 1830s, although I would be very surprised if no one brought it up at the time. “You expelled white people, now white people are expelling you. Just desserts!”

***

I was pleased to see yesterday this reference to another historical myth, on the side of a U-Haul:

The Kensington Runestone is a nineteenth-century forgery, but it has not prevented Alexandria, Minnesota, from constructing Big Ole, a twenty-five foot tall statue of a Viking, complete with spear, winged helmet, and “Alexandria: Birthplace of America” on his shield.

Sacraments

I thought of something today while lecturing. Over the course of the Middle Ages, the church tended to downplay the importance of relics, and to play up the importance of the sacraments. I suppose the obvious fraud involved in the relic trade might have been embarrassing, but the main reason for the shift is because sacraments were performative, and required a priest to deliver them. Thus, they were easier to control than relics. You could cut someone off from the sacraments in a way that you could not prevent him from acquiring relics, or gifting (or selling) them to someone else.

It reminded me of the current movement to digitize everything and to deliver it wirelessly. If I buy a codex, the publisher and the author get their cut. But the book, as an object, is mine forever – or until I sell it on to someone else, at which point originators don’t get a cut at all. CDs and DVDs are dead media – songs and movies now exist mostly in cyberspace, and you have to pay to download them – and you can’t sell them on, and they can disappear from your “library” if you’ve watched or listened to them too many times, or you somehow violate the terms of service. My hunch is that the secondary market for content has always been highly annoying to its creators, and they will do anything they can to delegitimize it. Having everything electronic, and under their control, must be a godsend to them.

Mass was probably the most important sacrament, since it represented spiritual sustenance. The medieval Catholic understanding of this was that “this is my body” meant exactly that: that when a priest uttered these words in a liturgical context, the bread transubstantiated into the actual flesh of Jesus, and the wine into his actual blood. Even though these elements retained the forms of bread and wine, their essences had been fundamentally altered, and to consume them meant that you were physically united with your lord and savior. It also meant that wine was optional: if you were to tear off a hunk of your flesh, it would have some blood in it. Thus does the consecrated bread “count” in a way that the wine doesn’t (although I’m sure there was also a practical, cost-saving impulse behind this custom).

Since consuming bread and wine “in memory of me” had been instituted by Jesus himself, Protestants are not free to disregard it, as they did monasticism and extreme unction. However, what it actually meant was a topic of great debate during the Reformation. Generally, the more Protestant you were, the less frequently you took it, and the less miraculous it was. This has led to a great variety of Christian customs, which I have jotted down. When you go to consume bread and wine as part of a church service:

What will you call it (Mass, Eucharist, Communion, Lord’s Supper, etc.)?
What is the nature of the bread and the wine once consecrated?
Will your altar be made of stone or wood? Will you even have one?
Will you take it standing, kneeling, or sitting?
Will you take it at the altar, or in your pew?
How often will it be served (weekly, biweekly, quarterly, etc.)?
Will you take bread alone, or both bread and wine?
How old will you need to be before you can take it, and will you have to pass through some other rite (e.g. confirmation) before you can?
Will your bread be leavened or unleavened?
Will wine be served, or grape juice?
Will the wine/grape juice be served in a chalice, or in little cups? Will you allow these things?
If you serve wine in a chalice, will you allow intinction (dipping the bread in the wine)?
Is it an expression of sectarianism, i.e. do you have to be a formal member of the denomination in question, before you can take it?

Some of these are arbitrary, but others are of great significance indeed.