WOW~ Word of the Week ~ Prigstar

WOW~ Word of the Week ~ Prigstar

“A girl likes to be crossed a little in love now and then.”
Mr. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

This is such a great line, for all that it’s an awful sentiment, especially one coming from your father. But on this St. Valentine’s Day – which has its own twisted history – I thought it interesting to examine two of the more famous infamous love stories where rivalries were involved.

Prigstar

A rival in love.

The Abduction of Helen by Luca Giordano (1632-1705) from the Musée des Beaux-Arts.

Helen and Paris (and King Menelaus)

In Green mythology, Helen was the most beautiful woman in the world (the face that launched a thousand ships, according to the line from the poem of the same name, from playwright Christopher Marlowe; is that line a double entendre or figure of speech?). She was the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, but what’s a little matrimony to get in the way of true love, eh? When Trojan Prince Paris saw her, he had to have her, and they ran away – or he abducted her – the story is a bit fuzzy there.

As one would expect, Menelaus was none too pleased, and persuaded his brother, King Agamemnon of Mycenae, to form a king-size army to lay siege to Troy for the rescue of the fair Helen. Ten years, all the big names in fighting (Achilles, Patroclus, Odysseus, Hector, and various gods and goddesses), and some wicked battle strategy (remember the Trojan Horse?) eventually resulted in a Greek victory. The price was steep, however, as all the aforementioned soldiers, save Odysseus, were slain; it took another ten years for Odysseus to reach home, and his journey was full of peril.

So what of Paris and Helen? Paris was not a central figure in the war he caused. He died late in the war from an arguably lucky shot from Greek Philoctetes. The remaining residents of Troy, or Troas, had no interest in harboring Helen. She was returned to her husband, who took her back to Sparta, the journey of which took eight years thanks to those pesky gods that were pro-Troy, and caused them to blow off course past Crete all the way to Egypt.

Cleopatra and Mark Antony (and Julius Caesar)

The Meeting between Cleopatra and Octavian after the Battle of Actium, 1787-1788, by Louis Gauffier (1761-1801), National Galleries of Scotland.

She would be the last pharaoh of Egypt, the end of the Macedonian-Greek-Ptolemaic Dynasty that had ruled since the death of Alexander the Great. She was described as passionate, beautiful, intellectual, and authoritarian. They were Roman generals who seized power by force rather than birthright, were driven to expand the Empire at all costs, and had Egypt firmly in their sights.

Egypt had been weakened by Cleopatra’s father, Ptolemy XII, who had given so much power and money to Rome in effort to bolster his claim as pharaoh (he was the illegitimate son) that he defined the term figure-head. Rome pretended to care but really only smelled blood in the Mediterranean. Upon his death and 18-year-old Cleopatra’s ascension to co-regency with her 10-year-old brother (and husband; gotta love those Ptolemaic Egyptians), she discovered economic failure, famine, and crippling debt. Her brother/husband opted for a power play and declared himself sole ruler, but countered with one of her own – seeking Rome’s help but on her terms – and left her brother in her dust. And Caesar just happened to be in Alexandria.

“[Cleopatra] embarked in a little skiff and landed at the palace when it was already getting dark; and as it was impossible to escape notice otherwise, she stretched herself at full length inside a bed-sack, while Apollodorus [her servant] tied the bed-sack up with a cord and carried it indoors to Caesar.”

Caesar, thirty years her senior, was sold. Cleopatra’s brother/husband, the following morning, was outmaneuvered. Although she was declared a traitor and the Egyptian army dispatched to attack, Caesar’s considerably larger army arrived from Syria, soundly defeating the young Ptolemy. She was even pregnant with the heir to the Roman ruler. Game, set, and match.

Except that Caesar gave her to her other brother, the 12-year-old Ptolemy XIV, declaring him her new co-ruler and future husband. Ever wily, Cleopatra followed Caesar to Rome and gave birth to Ptolemy Caesar, known as Caesarion (little Caesar). Romans were not impressed; their ruler had no legitimate heirs with his legitimate wife and an illegitimate one from a decadent country was not looked upon favorably in their so-called civilized land.

When Caesar named Octavian his heir, then followed this up by being assassinated, Cleopatra grabbed her “little Caesar” and fled back to Egypt. But the assassination didn’t settle the unrest in Rome, and Octavian had to assert his right to rule against an upstart General: Mark Antony. After years of fighting, the empire was split into east and west, and both needed funds. Antony looked to the south – to Egypt – for his coins. Cleopatra knew Antony from her time in Rome… and knew he was coming to her land.

In Plutarch’s words: “[Cleopatra] came sailing up the River Cydnus in a barge with gilded stern and outspread sails of purple, while oars of silver beat time to the music of flutes and fifes and harps. She herself lay all along, under a canopy of cloth of gold, dressed as Venus in a picture, and beautiful young boys, like painted Cupids, stood on each side to fan her.”

The queen knew how to make an entrance and impression, and just as his Caesar had been before him, Antony was ensnared. He abandoned his plans for funds for his schemes back in Europe and settled in for a long stay with his new paramour. Cleopatra, for her part, used Antony to rid her of her last enemy – her sister, Arsinoe. In the battle between Cleopatra, Caesar, and her first brother/husband Ptolemy XIII, Arsinoe had sided with their brother, and had been banished to the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. As a token of his love/obsession, Antony had Arsinoe dispatched on the temple steps. Cleopatra, as a token of her appreciation, gave birth to his twins the following year.

A few more deaths, a divorce, and an incestuous marriage take place, but the end is pure Shakespeare. All pretense of détente gone, it was all out war. Antony and Cleopatra met Octavian’s forces in the great but disastrous sea battle at Actium in 31BC, the beginning of the end for the lovers. Antony’s efforts to become the sole ruler of Rome were thoroughly defeated. Believing Cleopatra had allied herself with Octavian to ensure her own survival then committed suicide, he attempted to fall on his sword in true Roman tradition. He failed, and his wounded body was taken to his lover (see the painting at the beginning of this post). Cleopatra had been hiding in a mausoleum, which sounds so very ancient Egyptian for some reason.

There in the sepulcher, Antony succumbed to his wounds, allegedly dying in Cleopatra’s arms. Without the protection of Antony’s troops and now at Octavian’s mercy, she had to know capture meant humiliation at best, torture and execution at worst. The mighty, passionate, intellectual, and beautiful Egyptian pharaoh took her own life, reportedly by allowing a poisonous Egyptian cobra, or asp, to bite her.

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Club Law

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Club Law

Sometimes we know we should do the right thing before it’s actually the right thing to do. For instance, there are some things in life that we know are right and we know are wrong; just because there aren’t any laws for or against them doesn’t mean we should or shouldn’t do them.

Case in point: today is Martin Luther King, Jr Day in the United States. No one should have ever needed telling the color of one’s skin mattered in determining anything about one’s worth. And yet here we are, in 2022, still having this discussion.

It makes me ill.

Like my Word of the Week implies, some people might benefit from oak stick education rather than parliamentary procedure.

Club Law

Argumentum bacculinum, in which an oaken stick is a better plea than an act of parliament.

William Wilberforce (1759-1833)

In opening, concerning the nature of the slave trade, I need only observe that it is found by experience to be just such as every man who uses his reason would infallibly conclude it to be. For my own part, so clearly am I convinced of the mischiefs inseparable from it, that I should hardly want any further evidence than my own mind would furnish, by the most simple deductions.

When we consider the vastness of the continent of Africa; when we reflect how all other countries have for some centuries past been advancing in happiness and civilization; when we think how in this same period all improvement in Africa has been defeated by her intercourse with Britain; when we reflect that it is we ourselves that have degraded them to that wretched brutishness and barbarity which we now plead as the justification of our guilt; how the slave trade has enslaved their minds, blackened their character, and sunk them so low in the scale of animal beings that some think the apes are of a higher class, and fancy the orang-outang has given them the go-by. What a mortification must we feel at having so long neglected to think of our guilt, or attempt any reparation! It seems, indeed, as if we had determined to forbear from all interference until the measure of our folly and wickedness was so full and complete; until the impolicy which eventually belongs to vice was become so plain and glaring that not an individual in the country should refuse to join in the abolition; it seems as if we had waited until the persons most interested should be tired out with the folly and nefariousness of the trade, and should unite in petitioning against it.

Let us then make such amends as we can for the mischiefs we have done to the unhappy continent… It will appear from everything which I have said, that it is not regulation, it is not mere palliatives, that can cure this enormous evil. Total abolition is the only possible cure for it.

  • From a speech in the House of Commons on May 12, 1789, in support of his own resolution condemning the slave trade, which with the help of Pitt, Burke, and Fox, was carried without a division.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

I’d like to use a subject from which to speak this afternoon, the Other America. And I use this subject because there are literally two Americas. One America is beautiful for situation. And, in a sense, this America is overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies; and culture and education for their minds; and freedom and human dignity for their spirits. In this America, millions of people experience every day the opportunity of having life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in all of their dimensions. And in this America millions of young people grow up in the sunlight of opportunity.

But tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the ebulliency of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this America millions of work-starved men walk the streets daily in search for jobs that do not exist. In this America millions of people find themselves living in rat-infested, vermin-filled slums. In this America people are poor by the millions. They find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.

In a sense this was a struggle for decency; we could not go to a lunch counter in so many instances and get a hamburger or a cup of coffee. We could not make use of public accommodations. Public transportation was segregated, and often we had to sit in the back and within transportation — transportation within cities — we often had to stand over empty seats because sections were reserved for whites only. We did not have the right to vote in so many areas of the South. And the struggle was to deal with these problems.

And certainly they were difficult problems, they were humiliating conditions. By the thousands we protested these conditions. We made it clear that it was ultimately more honorable to accept jail cell experiences than to accept segregation and humiliation. By the thousands students and adults decided to sit in at segregated lunch counters to protest conditions there. When they were sitting at those lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and seeking to take the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Many things were gained as a result of these years of struggle. In 1964 the Civil Rights Bill came into being after the Birmingham movement which did a great deal to subpoena the conscience of a large segment of the nation to appear before the judgment seat of morality on the whole question of Civil Rights. After the Selma movement in 1965 we were able to get a Voting Rights Bill. And all of these things represented strides.

But we must see that the struggle today is much more difficult. It’s more difficult today because we are struggling now for genuine equality. It’s much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee a livable income and a good solid job. It’s much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee the right to live in sanitary, decent housing conditions. It is much easier to integrate a public park than it is to make genuine, quality, integrated education a reality. And so today we are struggling for something which says we demand genuine equality.

Now the other thing that we’ve gotta come to see now that many of us didn’t see too well during the last ten years — that is that racism is still alive in American society. And much more wide-spread than we realized. And we must see racism for what it is. It is a myth of the superior and the inferior race. It is the false and tragic notion that one particular group, one particular race is responsible for all of the progress, all of the insights in the total flow of history. And the theory that another group or another race is totally depraved, innately impure, and innately inferior.

In the final analysis, racism is evil because its ultimate logic is genocide. Hitler was a sick and tragic man who carried racism to its logical conclusion. He ended up leading a nation to the point of killing about 6 million Jews. This is the tragedy of racism because its ultimate logic is genocide. If one says that I am not good enough to live next door to him; if one says that I am not good enough to eat at a lunch counter, or to have a good, decent job, or to go to school with him merely because of my race, he is saying consciously or unconsciously that I do not deserve to exist.

To use a philosophical analogy here, racism is not based on some empirical generalization; it is based rather on an ontological affirmation. It is not the assertion that certain people are behind culturally or otherwise because of environmental conditions. It is the affirmation that the very being of a people is inferior. And this is the great tragedy of it.

I submit that however unpleasant it is we must honestly see and admit that racism is still deeply rooted all over America. It is still deeply rooted in the North, and it’s still deeply rooted in the South.

Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up in the destiny of America. Before the pilgrim fathers landed at Plymouth we were here. Before Jefferson etched across the pages of history the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence, we were here. Before the beautiful words of the Star Spangled Banner were written, we were here. For more than two centuries, our forebearers labored here without wages. They made cotton king. They built the homes of their masters in the midst of the most humiliating and oppressive conditions. And yet out of a bottomless vitality, they continued to grow and develop.

And so I can still sing “We Shall Overcome.” We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward Justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right, “No lie can live forever.” We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right, “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right, “Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne — Yet that scaffold sways the future.” With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.

With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discourse of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to speed up the day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and live together as brothers and sisters, all over this great nation. That will be a great day, that will be a great tomorrow. In the words of the Scripture, to speak symbolically, that will be the day when the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy.

  • From the speech, “The Other America,” delivered at Stanford University on April 14, 1967, addressing the topics of race, poverty, and economic justice.

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