My new header image and the “conversion” twitter thread: when I feel the need to express my philosophical or aesthetic apprehensions about Islam I do so loud and clear…

26 Jan

My choice for new header image and the pasting of the two garbled twitter threads on conversion to Islam in the Levant are not related. Their appearance together are pure coincidence; Twitter decided on its own to use the image on my Twitter page and I don’t know how to change it. The warrior/king represented is simply a very beautiful image of a beautiful –and yes, obviously Christian — man from a beautiful film, Sergey Paradzhanov’s The Legend of Suram Fortress (he had an insanely sharp eye for the male beauty of Anatolia and the Caucasus — see whole film here). He is not meant to be an image of a crusader or Christian knight or anything; at least that’s not why I used it.

Suram Fortress is one of many deeply archetypal myths found throughout the Balkans, Anatolia and the Caucasus, like the bridge of Arta — the lovely town in southern Epiros that was capital of the Despotate of Epiros for most of its history and is perhaps Greece’s most densely packed with Byzantine monuments city — about a fortress or wall or bridge that requires a human sacrifice in order to be built. The builders and architects try but — in the common refrain of the legend — “what was built by day, collapsed by night.” Finally a virgin, or, in the Suram tale, a blue-eyed young man, is found who either voluntarily offers himself, or, as in the Arta version, is tricked, and is buried alive in the structure’s foundations which then finally hold. Traditionally — until recently — a rooster had its throat cut over the foundation stone of a house so that it would hold and “take root” solidly.

The Arta version is particularly cruel: the young blue-eyed Georgian warrior’s sacrifice is at least voluntary. In Arta, the master builder’s wife comes to bring him his meal at the construction site; he has already been told the prophecy that a human being needs to be buried in the foundations. The builder acts despondent. She asks what’s wrong. He says my wedding band slid off and fell into the river. She says: “I’ll dive in and get it for you, my love.” And as soon as she does, the builders start laying the stones on top of her. As she’s being immured alive, she curses the bridge and asks that anyone who crosses it be blown off like an autumn leaf and drown in the river. The builders remind her though, that she has a brother in “xeniteia” (an emigrant — again the theme of emigration, separation and loss in Epirotiko culture) and “when he comes home you don’t want him to drown as he tries to cross the bridge, do you?” She says, basically, “oh yeah, that’s right”, rescinds her curse and the bridge stands and travellers use it safely.

Just needed to get that out there, because I got the usual “Islamophobe” emails about the conversion posts which I’m going to edit for legibility.

Please don’t worry: when I feel the need to express my philosophical or aesthetic apprehensions about Islam I do so loud and clear and don’t hide behind images or metaphors or other people’s tweets, believe me.

The bridge of Arta


One Response to “My new header image and the “conversion” twitter thread: when I feel the need to express my philosophical or aesthetic apprehensions about Islam I do so loud and clear…”

  1. Milena January 26, 2020 at 11:19 pm #

    So interesting… the building-people-into-buildings is also a famous motif in Yugoslav epics — like in one of the most iconic poems, “The Building of Skadar,” in which a vila (mountain nymph?) repeatedly destroys a fortress until a young prince builds his wife into its walls. The really tragic and poetic twist in this version is that the prince’s wife has an infant son — so when she is finally built into the wall, she asks to have a small window made for her eyes and breasts to be able to see and feed her baby. (I wonder where this motif originated from?)

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