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 ~ Lurched

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Lurched

We are game-playing fanatics in my family.

Board, backyard, card – you mention the word “game” and our family is in it to win it. But perhaps that’s too simplistic. We love the strategy, the complexity, and the challenge…and we really enjoy being together with extended family and friends. Sometimes the competition is friendly and sometimes it gets a little more heated, but we always have fun, and always meet again to play another game.

The one game I see pop up the most in all things Regency is whist. It’s a game I’m totally unfamiliar with, so of course I dove into the research head-first. It also helped that whist was mentioned several times in Pride and Prejudice, the most familiar time to me when it vexed Elizabeth no end that Mr. Darcy ignored her to play whist at the behest of her mother, of all people.

When the tea-things were removed, and the card-tables placed, the ladies all rose, and Elizabeth was then hoping to be soon joined by him, when all her views were overthrown by seeing him fall a victim to her mother’s rapacity for whist players, and in a few moments after seated with the rest of the party. She now lost every expectation of pleasure. They were confined for the evening at different tables, and she had nothing to hope, but that his eyes were so often turned towards her side of the room, as to make him play as unsuccessfully as herself.
Pride and Prejudice, chapter 54

Lurched

Those who lose a game of whist, without scoring five, are said to be lurched.

Edmond Hoyle was and is the expert on cards and games, and his collection of instruction pamphlets were grouped together and published, following his death, under the concise title Mr. Hoyle’s games of whist, quadrille, piquet, chess, and back-gammon, complete, In which are contained, the method of playing and betting at those games, upon equal, or advantageous terms. Including the laws of the several games. The fifteenth edition. To which are added, two new cases at whist; also the new laws of the game at whist, as played at White’s and Saunders’s Chocolate-Houses.

Mr. Hoyle’s Games of Whist, Quadrille, Piquet, Chess and Back-Gammon, circa 1770.

Whist is played with a standard 52-card deck, known during the Regency as a French Deck, and four players grouped into two sets of partners. Partners may not comment nor collude about the cards they are dealt. The object of the game is to take “tricks” and thus score the most points (all of which reminds me of pinochle). A trick consists of one turn where each participant plays a card, with the pile going to the winner who plays the “best” card. The best card is not always the highest in rank, as we’ll learn later.

Queen of Hearts from deck of cards, early 1800s, Ackermann’s Repository.

The rank of cards is in order from highest to lowest, beginning with Ace and ending with the deuce. Cards are shuffled by the player to the left of the dealer and cut by the player to the dealer’s right. All 52 cards are dealt facedown save the final card, which is left faceup to determine the trump suit. Each player will have thirteen cards; this yields thirteen tricks.

Trump Suit, from Colonial Games.

Play proceeds clockwise, with the first card thrown by the player on the dealer’s left. The participant may play any card in his hand; remaining players must follow with cards from this leading suit. If no such card is held, a player has the choice to throw a card of any suit – called a discard – or play a card from the trump suit. The player who played the highest card in the lead suit takes the trick unless a trump was played. If multiple trumps fall during a trick, the highest trump takes the trick.

Whist Trick, from Colonial Games. In this trick, the player of the Jack takes the trick.

The winner of the trick collects the four cards and places them in a facedown stack close by. This player then leads the next trick. Once all thirteen tricks have been played, the stacks are then counted. Every six stacks are known as a “book;” one point is scored for that set of partners for every book they collect. The first team to reach five was considered the winner (or seven or nine, if that number was so chosen as the winning score). Those playing a “rubber of whist” played three rounds before the winning partnership was determined.

Christmas Academics Playing a Rubber at Whist, by Thomas Rowlandson, 1 April 1803, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

To keep score, players used tokens. Tokens could be made of any material, from metal to leather to cardboard. Later in the 19th century, tokens were replaced by dial counters and hinged pegs similar to those used in cribbage.

Brass Tokens – Vintage Whist Tokens, courtesy WorthPoint.

Whist is so close to pinochle, one of my favorite card games, that I really feel like my family needs to attempt a rubber soon. Wish everyone luck – I play to win.