Tag Archives: Byzantines

“Ottoman”: It’s pretty good: understanding an opponent’s mythology

28 Jan

“Understand an opponent’s mythology…”

Last night I figured I’d just buck up, get over with it, and start watching the Netflix docudrama — got through first two episodes — and it’s actually pretty good. Some key notes: The Turkish perspective is not insufferably jingoistic or Islamically triumphalist, like it was in that trashy 1453 film that came out a few years ago, which I also put off watching for a while because I thought it would be disturbing, but I ended up turning off after 20 minutes, not because I was disturbed or offended but because the script and acting were so horrendous and the production values so cheap — it looked like the set was composed of stuff bought wholesale from a Moroccan antique shop in the East Village or Çukurcuma– that it was simply unwatchable.

* We’re not portrayed as craven cowards or decadent dinosaurs à la Gibbon, whose destiny it was to float off into extinction. Both Constantine and Mehmet are portrayed as equal opponents, Hector-Achilles style: it’s probably no accident; both were, I’m sure, as acquainted with the Iliad as the other. Constantine’s heroic and complex combination of resistance and resignation are portrayed as thoroughly as possible: he did everything he could until there was nothing to be done anymore; Mehmet’s impressive intellect, cosmopolitanism and warrior skills are highlighted without going overboard. And both are pretty sexy, as is Giustiniani, as is even Notaras père (costumes and sets are beautiful too). I do dread the thought of how they’re going to treat the fate of the Notarades, though. It’s much too scintillating to just leave out of the whole narrative, yet to show it to us they’d have to admit that their revered Fatih Mehmet was what we would today call bisexual, and that he was also a cruel sadist, and I don’t know how that would have sat with the Turkish side of the production.

* Unexpectedly, I thought, we’re called “Romans” from the beginning of the series, in the fictional segments (and I think some of the Italians, Giustiniani even, calls us “Greeks” at one point); there’s more “Byzantine” used in the doc segments obviously. Either way, it’s hard to say whether they wanted to take a calculated risk in doing that, because using “Romans” probably leaves all non-Greek viewers baffled, or because “baffling” and confusing were the desired result for what’s always been the Turkish state’s policy: that is, separating us from the Byzantines/Romans and not giving us our due rights to claim descent for ourselves there, by calling us something different, the same reason Turkey calls Istanbul’s 3,000* remaining Greeks “Rum” to this day, while the rest of us are “Yunan”. It’s satisfying to hear, in any event.

* Whether advertently or not, it punctures some pretty giant holes in the Turkish mythology of heroic feat. One, by admitting the fact that we were outnumbered by the tens of thousands, so that the speed with which, for example, Rumelihisarı was built doesn’t seem quite so miraculous, plus there were already foundations on the site from an older Roman fortress. Two, by showing the glaring technological disparities between the two sides, meaning, that the Siege and Fall of Constantinople was the last great military event between mediaeval fortifications and early modern cannons and artillery, so that instead of being an incredible military achievement, it was more like the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlán, with as dogged and determined a defense. And enough already with the “genius” of dragging the ships over from what, I would guess, would be somewhere near Kabataş, over the ridge, down Dolapdere into the Horn. It must have taken an enormous amount of manpower — too bad Erdoğan’s tunnel wasn’t there yet — yet not everything that’s just super-hard is necessarily “genius”.

* And stop comparing it to fucking Game of Thrones. GOT was Tolkien with sex and was the most maddening piece of trash to enthrall the masses in a long time. Ottoman is about a series of deeply traumatic events in the history of a real people that still exists, and who have been persecuted and are still threatened and harassed by Mehmet’s descendants to this day: US.

All in all it’s good; watch it. I mean, wtf, whatever. Maybe the inevitable escalation of violence, especially against civilians after the entry of the Turks into the City (The Religion of Peace gave an army three days’ right to loot, murder, rape and enslave if a city resisted and didn’t capitulate on it own) will make later episodes more disturbing. And the long arm of Erdoğanism is always felt throughout the whole thing. If Netflix were to produce a series portraying the destruction of the Second Temple and the horrendous brutality with which the Romans massacred and expelled most Jews from Judaea that made the Romans look even slightly heroic for even a second — “due to be released next Tisha B’av” — there’s not even a question of whether it would face a howling riot of protest or not; it would simply never have been produced. That’s not a “Jews control Hollywood” argument. It’s the truth. Just too many people would be offended. But even as Turkey sinks deeper into self-isolating dictatorship, it does wonders projecting a certain image to the rest of us and the rest of the Ummah.

But, at best it’s an exercise in what Helequin above calls “understand-[ing] an oppenents [sic] mythology”. You don’t have to be a trained Jungian to understand (or at least try) that “myth” is the only “reality”. That means understanding the other’s myth/s is crucial to the development of empathy, the one form of intelligence that homo sapiens [?] are still tragically deficient in.

It’s certainly the only thing in Palestine, or between Hindu and Muslim in India, and in the continuing bad divorce that is Greek-Turkish relations that will inevitably make a difference. Put yourself in a Turk’s position. Think about the massive baggage of tradition around the idea of taking Constantinople that animated them. And then [smerk]… put yourself in our position: if everybody wanted it so badly for 1,200 years, it must have been one puta madre of a city we had built there.

And in the 19th and 20th centuries, we built them another real city — “over there” — the likes of which they also had never known, and they threw us out of there too.

What are you gonna do? After a certain point, anger is too tiring. And they pay and are paying the price for their political culture anyway.

************************************************************************* The number of Greeks today in Istanbul is somewhere in the 2,000 to 3,000 range, there’s an issue of whether deaths and marriages and births will keep things in the range of critical mass… Near 300,000 in a city of around a million in the 1920s, three-thousand — in a city of 15 million today.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Photo: Athens’ opens beautiful modern mosaic exhibit

28 Nov

The Byzantine Museum in Athens — sorry, a few years ago it was renamed the Byzantine and Christian Museum, like we might forget that the Byzantines were a Christian civilization — has a new exhibit of modern Greek mosaic artists and some of the stuff is really worth checking out.

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The museum also benefits from being situated in the palace and former grounds of the Duchess of Plaisance (Piacenza), a beautiful Neo-Renaissance mansion surrounded by gorgeous, spacious parks and gardens.  It belonged to Sophie de Marbois-Lebrun, Duchess of Plaisance, a leading society lady and salon-holder in mid-nineteenth-century Athens.  Read; she’s interesting.

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Cavafy: Of Coloured Glass

26 Nov

“Alternating bands of brick and stone common to Byzantine architecture: anti-earthquake measures. The more elastic bricks absorb shocks and shift configuration better, preventing the stones from cracking and preserving the overall integrity of the structure.”

EKVHDsKWoAE6eFoEKVHG3WWwAATWrbEKVHErzXYAARNJS.jpgThanks @byzantinemporiaAlways wondered.  Did any one else?  Never knew.  Did any one else know?  Was none of it due to limited resources, though, at least in last few centuries?  The first two look like Byzantine/Ottoman fortifications restored by Turkish Republic (Watch out for new post on that — much criticized by Byzantino-Ottomanists but I’m not 100% sure how I feel.)

Whenever I see smaller 13th to 15th, like the smaller churches of Athens, as sumptuously decorated inside, Cavafy comes to mind — and I’m moved even more:

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Ἀπὸ ὑαλὶ χρωματιστό

Πολὺ μὲ συγκινεῖ μιὰ λεπτομέρεια
στὴν στέψιν, ἐν Βλαχέρναις, τοῦ Ἰωάννη Καντακουζηνοῦ
καὶ τῆς Εἰρήνης Ἀνδρονίκου Ἀσάν.
Ὅπως δὲν εἶχαν παρὰ λίγους πολυτίμους λίθους
(τοῦ ταλαιπώρου κράτους μας ἦταν μεγάλ᾿ ἡ πτώχεια)
φόρεσαν τεχνητούς. Ἕνα σωρό κομμάτια ἀπὸ ὑαλί,
κόκκινα, πράσινα ἤ γαλάζια. Τίποτε
τὸ ταπεινὸν ἤ τὸ ἀναξιοπρεπὲς
δὲν ἔχουν κατ᾿ ἐμὲ τὰ κομματάκια αὐτὰ
ἀπὸ ὐαλὶ χρωματιστό. Μοιάζουνε τουναντίον
σὰν μιὰ διαμαρτυρία θλιβερὴ
κατὰ τῆς ἄδικης κακομοιριᾶς τῶν στεφομένων.
Εἶναι τὰ σύμβολα τοῦ τί ἥρμοζε νὰ ἔχουν,
τοῦ τί ἐξ ἅπαντος ἦταν ὀρθὸν νὰ ἔχουν
στὴν στέψι των ἕνας Κὺρ Ἰωάννης Καντακουζηνός,
μιὰ Κυρία Εἰρήνη Ἀνδρονίκου Ἀσάν.

OF COLOURED GLASS
I am very moved by one detail
in the coronation at Vlachernai of John Kantakuzinos
and Irini, daughter of Andronikos Asan.
Because they had only a few precious stones
(our afflicted empire was extremely poor)
they wore artificial ones: numerous pieces of glass,
red, green, or blue. I find
nothing humiliating or undignified
in those little pieces of colored glass.
On the contrary, they seem
a sad protest against
the unjust misfortune of the couple being crowned,
symbols of what they deserved to have,
of what surely it was right that they should have
at their coronation—a Lord John Kantakuzinos,
a Lady Irini, daughter of Andronikos Asan.
Translated by Edmund Keeley

Would you be able to tell us the names of the churches if you know?

Thanks, NikoBakos

M

Byzantine Ambassador’s website — check it out

18 Oct

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“Join us on our adventure to explore the forgotten world of BYZANTIUM. The word conjures up images of scheming eunuchs and mad monks but it was so much more – it was the very Roman empire itself! Greek-speaking, with its capital in Constantinople, and an influence that extended from England to Ethiopia – but they still called themselves Romans. Theirs was an empire of fabulous riches and mighty epics, buried by the jealous powers of the Islamic and the Western empires. Now we will go beyond the myths to rediscover how BYZANTIUM changed the world – and why it is still important today.”

You can follow Byzantine Ambassador at @byzantinepower but I just discovered his website today and it drops the quirky tone of his tweets and instead offers a sizeable amount of material on Byzantium and its place in the Mediterranean world and history.  Incredible erudition, interesting articles, videos and book suggestions, it’s like doing a major in Byzantine history.  And despite his obvious polemic position, his fully inclusive — I guess might be the right word — analyses paints a both broader and more detailed picture of the Eastern Roman Empire’s interaction with neighboring civilizations and its position in the wider world than you usually get.  If you’re even slightly interested, please, check it out.

Final comment and one I feel the need to point out whenever I get the chance is an extension of Byz’s front page blurb:

“Greek-speaking, with its capital in Constantinople, and an influence that extended from England to Ethiopia – but they still called themselves Romans”

Yes, they still called themselves Romans.  And we, modern Greeks, continued to call ourselves Romans until my grandparents’ generation and well into the 20th c.  Which is why I state, on the homepage of the Jadde that …” I’m Greek (Roman really, but like five people today understand what I’m talking about when I say that, so I use “Greek” for shorthand).”  I’m going to have to sit and compose some kind of full treatise on the issue at some time.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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Byz says

8 Oct

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Ok… Thank yous to A. — pointing out my major embarrassment bad — Williamson & Warren — well, Happy New Year at least…

30 Sep

I not only love Maryanne Williamson, I took the slightly pretentious step of having the editorial board of the Jadde (me) endorse her for President.  I wrote:

“…she [Williamson] gave a talk on the Triangle Factory Fire, Frances Perkins, Roosevelt,* the New Deal and how twentieth-century American prosperity, creativity, strength, and relative social justice were all born out of those individuals and phenomena that moved me to tears.

Well, it wasn’t Maryanne Williamson; it was Elizabeth Warren, who I’m also a great fan of.  Williamson has mentioned it on a couple of occasions, but not in a coherent passage the way Warren has several times, once in front of the arch in Washington Square Park, just two blocks from where the fire happened.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, on March 25th, 1911, occupies a weirdly vivid niche in my psyche.  More than other New Yorkers?  I dunno; I can only speak for myself.  The sheer horror — girls in their teens having to choose between being burned alive and a jump to certain death — should be more than enough.  And it always felt creepy to have class in what’s now NYU’s Brown building on the same floors where the factory was.  Then, I didn’t hear anyone mention it at the time, but the parallels to 9/11 — innocent people trapped by death on both sides — made both events reciprocally more disturbing.  It even raised the question of the daring and innovation that makes New York New York.  Were both events punishment for some kind of hubris: building things too tall to escape from if you need to?  I don’t really believe that there’s some cosmic force that actually punishes for that, but your mind wanders, in more archaic spaces…

Then the event chimes in, in a more than initially obvious way, with my deep intellectual and emotional engagement with Judaism.  The victims were obviously not all Jews.  And the women garment workers that had gone on strike less than two years before the fire to demand better working conditions were also not all Jewish.  But the harshness and persecutions of life in Eastern Europe, the progressive impulses Jews had collectively developed in response to that harshness and injustice, the dislocation of immigration, and an America — but especially a New York — that was a receptive vehicle for that whole psychological complex, made them disproportionately important in the movement and the whole series of events.

The proposal for a general strike for all garment workers in 1909 at the main hall of Cooper Union was made by a frail, twenty-three-year-old seamstress, Clara Lemlich — in Yiddish**, and a response from the crowd was a little slow in coming because it first had to be translated into Italian and English.  They were koritsakia, malaka; most had just come; they hadn’t even learned English yet.  There’s a women’s organization — I dunno who — that goes around the East Village and Lower East Side on March 25th and writes the names of the victims in chalk on the sidewalks in front of the houses where they lived: on the same block, next door to each other some of them.  The neighborhood must’ve felt its heart ripped out.

But when the response to Lemlich’s proposal was delivered, it was a resounding “YES!”.  And Jews need to remember and be proud of the fact that they’ve been over-represented ever since in every progressive movement that made America — but especially New York — what it became in the 20th century.

It gets a little more intense.  Because March 25th, the day of the fire, is also the day when another brave young Jewish girl exercised her God-given free will and said “yes” to God and changed the course of history and human civilization.  And that also weirds me out.  I might be sounding like a little child here: but why didn’t she do anything to help them?  The Mother?  The archetype of Christian compassion?  On that day that celebrates her own courage?

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And more.  March 25, 1944 was the day the Germans rounded up the Jews of my mother’s hometown, Jiannena, including her best friend, Esther Cohen, and sent them on the road to certain death at Auschwitz.  And no, there were no righteous Gentiles to help, just Greek police collaborators.  And just the German psychopaths, who diverted men and resources from the eastern front that had collapsed already the previous year, just to make sure and clean up the lands they already knew they had lost of any Jews.  It’s incomprehensible.  Oh, and they made sure they took detailed archival photos of the operations at the same time.  Ψυχοπαθείς… ***  And if I were sure they were totally cured…

01A woman weeps during the deportation of the Jews of Ioannina on March 25, 1944.

We’re entering a kinda Jungian territory of synchronicity here, but maybe I made this big gaffe on Rosh Hashanah for a reason.  Let my endorsement of Williamson extend to Warren too, oh, and, of course, Bernie Sanders, who was probably at that Cooper Union meeting.  Because this first day of 5780 is as good as any to declare the three of them vehicles of Tikkun and use that inspiration to do what we can to get Haman out of the White House and bring the republic back to righteousness.

Sorry again…  :)

comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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* These were αριστοκράτες — the Roosevelts, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, the Kennedys, the Rockefellers, however sleazy their origins and the origins of their wealth — true aristocrats — which is a word that I think Williamson uses in a slightly warped and unuseful way.  People who understood that their station implied obligation and not just privilege.  One of our emperors — unfortunately I can’t remember who; it wasn’t Basil I but it may have been one of the other Macedonians or the Comnenoi, said, and I’m paraphrasing: “Σήμερον ουκ εβασίλευσα διότι ουκ ευεργέτησα.”  “Today I did not reign because I did nothing of benefit.”  “ευεργέτησα” is a many-layered but not tricky word.  It means “to benefact”.   “I didn’t deserve to be called basileus today because I did nothing: to benefit my people, to glorify God, to strengthen my City or my State.”  These people — the Roosevelts, Perkins — knew they had duties too.  And the not always morally spotless “benefactor” millionaires of the 19th and 20th century Greek diaspora knew they had duties too.  Not only to make more money for themselves but to help build and cement the institutions of the new state.  Not like the sleazy, ship-owning mafia of Greece today.  Which not a single Greek politician has the balls to put forth policy that would tax them.

** This is just one thing that makes Yiddish, along with Neapolitan and Caribbean Spanish, one of New York’s three sacred languages.

*** Jiannena has, however, become a very hip, progressive and (always) lovely university town.  And last year, it voted in the first Jewish mayor in Greek history; out of about 30 Jews that are left from a pre-war 5,000 — one is now mayor of Jiannena.  More on the city’s transformation, and the continuity with its past as a prosperous center of the Greek Enlightenment, in another post.

P.S.  It was Frances Perkins, who Warren speaks of and the woman who, as the first female cabinet member in American history, Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor, put the whole causal string together.  She said: “The New Deal began on March 25th, 1911, the day the Triangle Factory burned.”

And P.P.S.  Let’s not forget that today those factories are in Malaysia and Honduras.

And P.P.P.S.  “Volume Four of Ric Burns’ monumental New York: A Documentary Film is probably the most stirring visual treatment of all of the above.  Get your hands on it if you get a chance.  Amazon’s got in on Prime.”

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comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

For The Byzantine Ambassador @byzantinepower (interesting thread going on there)

8 Nov

A great book — and destined to be the seminal go-to for these issues — for anybody interested in role Hellenism played in later Greek consciousness is Kaldellis’ Hellenism in Byzantium: The Transformations of Greek Identity and the Reception of the Classical Tradition:

Kaldellis

It leaves you with more questions than answers, but that’s probably how it should be.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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