Tag Archives: Christianity

City chauvinism and Zonaras’ lament

30 Dec

The reason that Byzantine Ambassador’s tweeting of Joannes Zonaras’ whine about being stuck on the Princes’ Islands — (“Adalar” or what Jews called, with wonderful syncretism, “Las Adas”) — “the end of the earth” — is funny…

— is that this (below)…

…is how far the Princes’ Islands are from Constantinople. In fact, it was generally considered that exile on the Islands was particularly painful because one could still see the City from there.

But, as the Bard said: “There is no world outside Verona walls…”

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My Best of Byzantine Ambassador’s tweets for 2020

30 Dec

Check out ByzAmb (a.k.a. Henry Hopwood-Phillips) at @byzantinepower or at his website: THE BYZANTINE AMBASSADOR. He’s a tipaccio in the great tradition of truly erudite, eccentric Brits, and is always up to smart, scarily learned, quirky takes on Byzantium, Orthodoxy, what we used to call Christendom, MENA and western Eurasia more generally, and lots else.

These are my favs for this year:

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Photo: Mughal painting of Christ and the Virgin Mary

24 Dec

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Write us: with comments or observations, or to be put on our mailing list or to be taken off our mailing list, contact us at nikobakos@gmail.com.

NikoBako reads: Tom Holland on secularism, France, Islam…

23 Dec

My money quotes:

Ibn Khaldun, the great medieval historian, noted with surprise that the Gospels consisted largely of sermons and stories, “and have an almost complete lack of laws”. It was this lack, in the opinion of medieval Muslim jurists, that served to condemn Christianity as an inadequate and superceded revelation. Unlike the Jews, who at least had a written law from God, Christians were forever changing their minds, devising new law codes, revising the ones they already had. How were such people possibly to be taken seriously? […]

Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that Islamist radicals, when they look at the history of France, should see in it a sinister continuum. In 2015, when the Islamic State issued a statement claiming responsibility for the murderous attacks on the Bataclan and a range of other atrocities, it readily conflated the era of Louis IX with the vices of a more recent and godless materialism. Paris was condemned both as “the carrier of the Banner of the Cross in Europe”, and as “the capital of prostitution and obscenity”. […]

The Islamic State, when they identified France as the capital of everything that it most hated, were not so far wrong. Eldest Daughter of the Church and the home of revolution, the land of saints and philosophes, Catholic and laique, it is her fate — and perhaps her privilege — to serve, more than any other country, as the very embodiment of the West.

Full article below…

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The age-old tension between Islam and France

A profound antipathy reaches back beyond the Enlightenment

BY Tom Holland

Tom Holland is a writer, popular historian and cricketer. He is not an actor. His most recent book is Dominion

November 2, 2020

In 1798, Napoleon embarked on the first French invasion of Egypt since the era of the Crusades. He prepared for it with his customary attention to detail. Conscious that he was travelling to a predominantly Muslim land, he sought to make a careful study of Islam. Top of his reading list was, of course, the Qur’an. Raised as he had been to view the Bible as the archetype of scripture, he found it a surprising text. The character of Muhammad’s revelations, he realised, was radically different from that of the New Testament.

The Qur’an did not content itself with what Napoleon had been brought up to think of as “religion”. Its scope was much broader than that. From fiscal policy to sumptuary laws, it offered prescriptions for entire dimensions of what, in Europe, had long since come to be defined as “secular”. Napoleon, sorting out the library in his cabin, duly catalogued it, not under “Religion”, but under “Politics”.

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Hagia Sophia: a picture is worth a thousand words

14 Dec

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From Ahval: “Rediscovering and re-evaluating the new Turkey” by Constantinopolitan Greek analyst Hercules Millas: Erdoğan and “Christianophobia” — yes, you read right — and the “limited ingredients” we have to work with.

6 Dec

Not optimistic, my emphases:

What is new is not the negative image of the West; “Christianophobia” in the East is as old as the Ottomans and it is the flip side of “Islamophobia” of the West. These prejudices are the historical legacies of centuries-long crusades and jihads. What is sad is that the parties see only what lies in front of their eyes; they do not look at a mirror.  It is also heartbreaking that paranoia cannot be demonstrated to the obsessed. There is also a high probability that Erdoğan’s extreme anti-West rhetoric is not a tactical choice, but a sincere conviction. 

The meaning attributed to the persistently used term “international law” is probably the most indicative sign of the big changes that have taken place in Turkey as of late: it is a self-proclaimed and nationally interpreted “justice” and “our right”. In other words, this is a blatant nationalist declaration of arbitrariness with which “international” law is openly defied on a “national” basis.    

If this is the situation, i.e., if in Turkey there is a deep anti-Western conviction and a nationalist alliance, then an expectation of reinstalling Turkey of the past may prove to be a chimera. The changes that occurred in Turkey in the last few years are not some “manoeuvres on policies”; the core body of decision-making has been replaced. The old state has been toppled.

This is a new Turkey that needs to be re-discovered and re-evaluated. Limited ingredients necessitate new recipes. 

See whole article: “Rediscovering and re-evaluating the new Turkey

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Write us: with comments or observations, or to be put on our mailing list or to be taken off our mailing list, contact us at nikobakos@gmail.com.

“Ottoman”: final assessment; plus: the Notarades, and a “what-if” on our Turkish centuries

3 Feb

I’ve had more than one old Constantinopolitan Greek say to me: You [metropolitan Greeks] call us Byzantines but we’re not any more “Byzantine” than you. “Because when the Conqueror entered the city,” Kyra Smaro says, “he slaughtered any Greeks that had remained.” And this is born out by legit historical sources. Greeks — and other ethnicities of the empire — started repopulating Constantinople, now the Ottoman capital, after Mehmet consolidated his rule; ironically often brought in large numbers by force by the Ottomans to repopulate the almost empty city.

In my comments on the first two episodes of Netflix‘: “Ottoman”: It’s pretty good: understanding an opponent’s mythology — I expressed my apprehensions about how the violence of the final fall would be portrayed:

Maybe the inevitable escalation of violence, especially against civilians after the entry of the Turks into the City will make later episodes more disturbing, since The Religion of Peace gives an army three days’ right to loot, murder, rape and enslave if a city resists and doesn’t capitulate on its own.

Instead of glorifying the violence, though, the production totally whitewashes it, and I don’t know what’s worse or what I find more annoying. None of the massacring or enslavement of the remaining inhabitants of the City is shown, and though we know for a fact that large mobs of Greeks had packed themselves into a barricaded Hagia Sophia, hoping to be saved there, and that when the Turks finally broke in, everyone in the church was put to the sword (try and remember the butchery in the cathedral in Andrey Tarkovsky’s Andrey Rublev, when the Tatars finally break in), Netflix gives us an infuriating segment of Mehmet tranquilly walking into an empty, sanitized, already de-imaged Hagia Sophia and beatifically walking about in wonder, amazed at the building and the fulfillment of his own miraculous destiny.

And then there’s the sidebar story of Loukas Notaras, megas doux, the Grand Duke, something like a Prime Minister or Grand Vizier, to Constantine XI:

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.

I think we do know that Notaras tried to cooperate with the new rulers and perhaps tried to buy Mehmet off in exchange for his and his family’s safety. But apparently, soon after the fall, Mehmet ordered that he be sent one of Notaras’ handsome sons, Jacob, a notably beautiful teenager, who had inevitably caught Mehmet’s eye, to do…well…whatever with. Notaras refused and Mehmet then had the boy and perhaps his other brothers decapitated in front of his father and then decapitated Notaras himself.

A daughter of the family, Anna, somehow ended up in Venice — whether she had escaped before the fall of the City or not is not clear — but became a sort of Queen Mother in exile and benefactress to the large Greek community there, (Notaras, being a “spins-gold-out-of-thin-air” Greek, had invested most of his wealth in real estate in the Venetian Republic) creating a Greek school and setting in motion the construction of the first Greek church in Venice, San Giorgio dei Greci (below) or St. George of the Greeks, a truly gorgeous church, with an adjacent icon museum that shouldn’t be missed if you’re in Venice next; seriously, it’s one of the sites in the city critical for understanding its role and position in the larger Mediterranean.

And it might seem odd, given that so much of this blog is dedicated to making Greeks’ understand (or accept) their relationship to the East, that I’m now musing on our relationship to the West. But San Giorgio itself is — along with the glorious icons from Venetian Cretan School, along with other things that then come to mind…the unique urban beauty of the city of Corfu, or the couple dances, balos, of the Aegean islands, and the liltingly beautiful music that accompanies them, or reading Erotokritos, or El Greco — among the things that beg the question: “What if?” What if the Ottomans hadn’t prevailed? At least not for so long and over such a huge piece of territory? What would we “look” like now?

Anyway, the story of Mehmet and Notaras’ son, Jacob, is so lurid and full of orientalist tropes about sexually depraved Muslims that it’s hard to know if it’s apocryphal or not (that Mehmet was bisexual, or at least what we would call bisexual today, is not in doubt, however. But, again however, bisexuality was par for the course in the mediaeval Muslim world, as it was in the classical Greco-Roman world which had preceded it, so it was not a particularity or idiosyncrasy of Mehmet’s nor would it have been considered immoral at the time). And some historical sources claim that Jacob wasn’t beheaded but ended up in Mehmet’s harem or serving him at his new court, and later escaped to Venice to join his sister Anna and two other siblings of his. I can tell you one thing: the whole story of the Notarades is so fascinating and complicated that someone should give it a historical fiction chance, print or screen, at some point.

There is this fascinating and kinda wacky book out there, The Age of Beloveds: Love and the Beloved in Early-Modern Ottoman and European Culture and Society, by Walter G. Andrews and Mehmet Kalpaklı, that describes a homoerotic and bisexual court culture that the authors argue existed in both East and West in the early modern Mediterranean, that starts off with the story of Mehmet and the Notaras boy, and that claims the whole incident was a cultural misunderstanding, and that Mehmet was honoring the Notaras family by seeking the intimacy of the handsome young Greek boy. I’m not doing the book justice; it’s complicated and parts are actually very beautiful. Check it out; it’s very interesting.

As for “Ottoman”, it ends up being an atypically Netflixian anodyne treatment of a fascinating historical moment.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

The full Nietzsche quote from “the Greekest image” post

13 Nov

“It is decisive for the lot of a people and of humanity that culture should begin in the right place – not in the “soul” (as was the fateful superstition of the priests and half-priests): the right place is the body, the gesture, the diet, physiology; the rest follows from that. Therefore the Greeks remain the first cultural event in history: they knew, they did, what was needed; and Christianity, which despised the body, has been the greatest misfortune of humanity so far.”

And here’s the whole post from a few years ago.

1-nietzsche-friedrich-portrait-1860

See: This is perhaps the Greekest image I have ever seen.” 

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

The “comforting illusion” of India

11 Nov

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I have a serious philosophical issue with all monotheisms; the concept just doesn’t hold water for me and I never understood why in junior high history it was presented as such a leap forward in the development of human consciousness.  Like, what’s so smart about this totally reductive idea?

I’ve always said that if I could be a sentient embryo and choose what religion I would be born into, it would be Hinduism, because it seems to me that it contains the most intelligent and sophisticated dialectic between unity and plurality.  Just the Gita — where a handsome, young, womanizing god is revealed to be the very principle of existence itself — has always been enough to seduce me both intellectually and emotionally — and sexually, frankly.  I think Kanha’s “I am the taste of water”, may be even more powerful than Yahweh’s «Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν» — “I am the Is”.

But it’s precisely that kind of Western romance with Hinduism and its infinite polymorphousness, to paraphrase Freud*, that has led to the “free pass” we’ve given to a criminal Modi from “Bible-belt” Gujarat and a criminal BJP for way too long.  It’s tempting and comforting to think that Hindu fundamentalism is an oxymoron, but fanaticism and hate can infect any ideology.

Modi is a criminal and the BJP and Shiv Sena — with its increasing stranglehold on one of the world’s great, open, cosmopolitan cities, which is why “Mumbai” infuriates me, though nobody seems to listen to me — are criminal, murderous organizations.

No amount of saffron and marigolds can change that.

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* Anthropologist Clifford Geertz used to tell an anecdote — whether real or not has never been verified — about an Englishman who asked a saddhu he came across one day where the universe was located.  And the holy man replied:

“On the back of an elephant that rests on the back of a turtle.”

“And the turtle?”

“On the back of another turtle.”

“And that turtle?”

“On the back of another turtle.”

“And that turtle?”

“Ah, sahib, after that it is turtles all the way down.”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Greek assholes: Anti-migrant pork-and-alcohol BBQ held near Diavata refugee camp

10 Nov

Look, I’m as annoyed as the next Christian by Islam’s puritan beef with booze and pig meat*, but this is sheer inanity and sociopathic intent to insult and hurt others. It’s what the Spanish Inquisition used to do.  It embarrasses me as a Greek.  Malakes…eh malakes.

* I do have to say though, that I’m super-irritated at the hypocrisy of Muslim friends I know who are more than border-line alcoholics who get trashed on a regular basis, but will freak out if there’s pork or even any non-halal meat put in front of them.  It’s like you can live without pork; and that’s your loss of course: I’m sorry you’ll die without ever trying pata negra jamón or a cocido madrileño, or ever eating a roast suckling lechón in Segovia, or Dominican chicharrón or Doña Cecilia’s pigfeet seco with chickpeas or a Shanghai braised pork shoulder or really good chorizo or morcilla.  I respect your fortitude.

But really…  Ok, pig is haram; but if we’re talking about an addictive substance that’s harder to abstain from like alcohol, then you can get a halal-pass?

I dunno abi…

Pork 7

Pork 1Pork 2

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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