The Strange Death of Sam Cooke

Listening to my good friend Demitri and his King Street Blues combo inspired me to revisit the early soul standards of the late fifties and early sixties. Inevitably the journey took me to Sam Cooke.

Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke (January 22, 1931 – December 11, 1964), born Samuel Cook, was an African-American recording artist, singer-songwriter and entrepreneur. He is commonly known as the King of Soul for his distinctive vocal abilities and influence on the modern world of music. His pioneering contributions to soul music led to the rise of Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Billy Preston and popularized the likes of Otis Redding and James Brown.

Cooke had 30 U.S. top 40 hits between 1957 and 1964, and a further three after his death. Major hits included “You Send Me”, “A Change Is Gonna Come”, “Cupid”, “Chain Gang”,  and “Twistin’ the Night Away”. And few remember that Herman’s Hermits “Wonderful World” was written and first recorded by Cooke.

He was also among the first modern black performers and composers to attend to the business side of his musical career. He founded both a record label and a publishing company as an extension of his careers as a singer and composer. He also took an active part in the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

On December 11, 1964, Cooke was fatally shot by the manager of the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 33. At the time, the courts ruled that Cooke was drunk and distressed, and that the manager had killed Cooke in what was later ruled a justifiable homicide. Since that time, the circumstances of his death have been widely questioned.  Wiki tells the story: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Cooke

Here are some of Sam Cooke’s timeless hits:

And check out King Street Blues at:  https://www.facebook.com/KingStreetBlues

Pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion

I was inspired to write this post on viewing the video below, a harrowing picture gallery of the Bosnian War, the bloodiest but not the last of the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession. I was reminded  of the iconic Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran’s poem, Pity the Nation,  a sardonic and incisive take on the politics of his time and his homeland. It is chilling in its prescience with regard to contemporary politics in the Middle East and indeed, much, much closer to home on in our liberal democracies where les mots de jour, and indeed, des temps are ‘populism’ and ‘post-truth’,  where allegations of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news are ubiquitous and duplicitous, and where, in a milieu of fear, anger and loathing, intolerance and ignorance appear to be on the rise.

Today, in America, 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale are best-sellers, and doubtless, as resignation and surrender sink in, Fahrenheit 451 and Catch 22 will catch on with intellectually and numerically inclined. The one is the temperature at which paper burns (“Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading”), the other, the mother of all vicious circles. The 22 was meant to be 18, but Joseph Heller was gazzumped by Leon Uris’ holocaust melodrama Mila 18  (which I do happen to like).

I was also reminded of a book of the same name. In Pity the Nation, his tombstone of a book about Lebanon’s civil war, and Israel’s intervention therein (inspired by Gibran’s poem, and by the fact the he has been a resident of Lebanon for going on half a century), the redoubtable British  journalist Robert Fisk writes of a Lebanese doctor, Amal Shamaa: “I had to take the babies and put them in buckets of water to put out the flames. When I took them out half an hour after, they were still burning. Even in the mortuary, they smouldered for hours”. “Next morning”, Fisk continues, “Amal Shamaa took the tiny corpses out of the mortuary for burial. To her horror, they again burst into flames”. Such is the effect of phosphorous shells on mortals. Made in America, used on Arabs, by Jews. But it happens anywhere and everywhere, inflicted by anyone on everyone.

And that, is in essence, the underlying message of Gibran’s poem, published posthumously after his death in 1931.

Pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion.
Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave
and eats a bread it does not harvest.

Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero,
and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful.

Pity a nation that despises a passion in its dream,
yet submits in its awakening.

Pity the nation that raises not its voice
save when it walks in a funeral,
boasts not except among its ruins,
and will rebel not save when its neck is laid
between the sword and the block.

Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox,
whose philosopher is a juggler,
and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking

Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpeting,
and farewells him with hooting,
only to welcome another with trumpeting again.

Pity the nation whose sages are dumb with years
and whose strongmen are yet in the cradle.

Pity the nation divided into fragments,
each fragment deeming itself a nation.

Kahlil Gibran, The Garden of The Prophet (1933)

The following song, E Lucevan Le Stelle, encapsulates all this:

“And time, ’tis said reveals its dead, and we will speak what was unsaid. How he was wrong, and I was led – his song I sing who gives me bread. It wasn’t me! I kept my head – I had my kin and kind to serve. It wasn’t me – I kept the faith. It wasn’t me who lost his nerve”.

It charts the cartography of carnage: Bali, Beslan, Gaza, Grozny, Kabul, Kigali, Sabra, Srebrenica, and other “far-away places with strange sounding names”. ”Many have perished, and more most surely will”. This latter quotation is adapted from Auden’s often overlooked masterpiece The Age of Anxiety, a meditation on a world in pain. “The bane of bad geography, the burden of topography, lines where they’re not meant to be are letters carved in stone”. “Bombs and babies, girls and guns, dollars, drugs and more betides, wash like waves on strangers’ shores: damnation takes no sides”.

Related posts In That Howling Infinite:

A House Divided – the nature of civil war
Pity the Nation
A brief history of the rise and fall of the west
Bombs and Babies
Solitudinem faciunt pacemappellant

Postscript

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, American poet, painter, liberal activist, and co-founder of the legendary City Lights Booksellers & Publishers in San Francisco, wrote the following poem in 2007 as a tribute to Gibran, and as a sad testament to the aphorism “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”.

“Pity the nation whose people are sheep and whose shepherds mislead them.

Pity the nation whose leaders are liars, whose sages are silenced, and whose bigots haunt the airwaves.

Pity the nation that raises not its voice except to praise conquerors and acclaim the bully as heroand aims to rule the world with force and by torture.

Pity the nation that knows no other language but its own and no other culture but its own.

Pity the nation whose breath is money and sleeps the sleep of the too well fed.

Pity the nation – oh, pity the people who allow their rights to erode and their freedoms to be washed away.

My country, tears of thee, sweet land of liberty.

Oh, Jerusalem – a song

“Bear me up on angels’ wings, and other transcendental things. Where the golden walls still glow, let my people go to Jerusalem”. 

Jerusalem is all about faith and passion, and there is no city on Earth that people get more passionate about. The light is luminous. In high summer it almost shimmers. The very air is full of prayer and politics, passion and pain, and the rocks and stones virtually sing a hallelujah chorus of history. I am not a religious person, but I cannot help getting excited by the place – although I do not transcend to transports of delight and delirium. Some folk love Jerusalem so much, they go mad.

Recorded by Charles Tyler at Susan Street, Annandale, 14th May 2017. © Paul Hemphill 2014 All rights reserved

https://howlinginfinite.com/2015/02/21/messianic-carpet-rides/

https://howlinginfinite.com/2014/06/07/amazing-grace-theres-magic-in-the-air/

That was the year that was

As I contemplate my annual review of In That Howling Infinite, I am reminded, with clichéd predictability, of that well-worn Chinese curse: “may you live in interesting times”.

A torturous and seemingly endless US election campaign defied all the pundits by producing an colourful and unpredictable POTUS. In the UK, the unthinkable Brexit came to pass, dividing the polity and discombobulating the establishment. Next year is certainly going to be worth watching.

The slow and tragic death of Syria continued unabated with Russian and Turkey wading into the quagmire alongside Americans, British, French, Australians, Iran, Lebanon, Gulf tyrants, and Uncle Tom Cobley and all. Da’esh might be on the the ropes in Iraq, but the long term survival of the unitary state is doubtful. And the proxy wars of the Ottoman Succession have spread to Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle Eas as Gulf tyrants face off against Shia Iran’s alleged puppets, and, armed and abetted by British and American weaponry, South American mercenaries, and Australian officers, bomb the shit out of the place.

Whilst the grim reaper scythed through the world from Baghdad to Berlin, from Aleppo to Ankara, the Year saw the passing of a record number of icons of the seventies and eighties, two of whom who have provided a continuing soundtrack for my life, Leonard Cohen and David Bowie. We shall not see the like of them again.

In our little corner of the cosmos, we endured the longest and most boring election campaign in living memory, resulting in an outcome that only accentuates Australians’ disenchantment with a lacklustre Tory government, a depressingly dysfunctional political system, and politicians of all stripes who, blinkered by short-termism, and devoid of vision, insist on fiddling whilst the antipodean Roman burns.

Meanwhile, in our own rustic backyard, we find that we too are “going up against chaos”, to quote that wonderful Canadian songster Bruce Cockburn. For much of the year, we have been engaged in combat with the Forestry Corporation of New South Wales as it proceeds to lay waste to the state forest that surrounds us. As the year draws to a close, our adversary has withdrawn with only half of its proposed harvest completed. But it will return in 2017, and the struggle will continue – as it will throughout the state and indeed the nation as timber, coal and gas corporations, empowered by legislation, trash the common treasury with the assent of our many governments.

And yet, life on the farm remains pleasant and delightful, though dams are low and rain would be most welcome. The bird and reptilian life continues to amaze us, and an ironic corollary to the clear felling of the Tarkeeth Forest is that “refugees” are seeking shelter here. Wallabies rarely seen on our land are now quite common, whilst echidnas, and, we suspect, endangered spotted quolls have been sighted hereabouts

We took time out mid-year to revisit Israel and Palestine, and road-trip through the two countries was much an education as a holiday. We certainly got our history and archeology fix, and in travelling through the Golan and the Negev, we found respite in a stunning natural environment. But the answers to our many political questions merely threw up more questions. We have unfinished business in this divine but divided land, and will return.

In That Howling Infinite addressed all these concerns during 2016, and matters more eclectic and exotic.

And so, to the year in review:

The new year commenced with a reprise of our memorable journey to Hadrians Wall, and of the Victorian lawyer who helped preserve it for posterity, the saga of the viking Harald Hardraga and also, my subjective overview of world history. In a more lighthearted vein, I indulged in an unscholarly discussion of how film and fiction have portrayed or distorted history, and in a review of Mary Beard’s superlative history of Rome, I asked the immortal question “what have the Romans done for us?”

The Life of Brian

In April, in response to a discussion with a Facebook friend in Oklahoma, I wrote a trilogy of exotically-titled posts examining the nature of rebellion, revolution, and repression: Thermidorian ThinkingSolitudinem Faciunt Pacem Appellant, and Sic Semper TyrannisThe origin of these Latin aphorisms is explained, by the way, in the aforementioned Roman review.

Nightwatch

Our travels through Israel and Palestine inspired numerous real-time posts, and a several retrospectives as we contemplated what we had experienced during what was as much an educational tour as a holiday. Historical vignettes included a tribute to bad-boy and builder King Herod the Great, a brief history of the famous Damascus Gate, and its place in Palestinian national consciousness, and a contemplation on the story of King David’s Citadel which overlooked our home-away-from home, the New Imperial Hotel. Thorny contemporary issues were covered with an optimistic piece on the Jerusalem Light Rail, a brief if controversial post about  Jewish settlers in the Old City, the story of Israel’s ‘Eastern’ Jews, the Mizrahim, and what appears to be a potentially problematic Palestinian property boom. Th e-magazine Muftah published an article I wrote about the conflicting claims to the city of Hebron. And finally, there is a poem recalling our visit to the Shrine of Remembrance at Yad Vashem and honouring the Righteous Gentiles who saved thousand of Jewish lives during the Shoah.

Carnivale

Wintertime passed with our minds on the Tarkeeth Forest. I had the pleasure discovering the history of our locality, and connecting via Facebook with the relatives of the Fells family of Twin Pines. But the latter half of the year was very much taken up with enduring and bearing witness to the clear- felling of the forest to our east. “If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise.  If you go down to the woods today, you’ll never believe your eyes”. And you’d ask “what would JRR Tolkien have thought?”

Nothing quite prepares you for the devastation of clear felling. Joby, a Gumbaynggirr elder, surveys the Tarkeeth

The UK And US paroxysms fascinated and exasperated the mainstream and social media in equal measure, whilst the outcome of the Brexit referendum and the presidential election has initiated an a veritable orgy of punditry. Never have so many column inches and kilobytes been spent on loud sounding nothings as the sifting through the entrails of such events as Brexit, the US election, and the Australian senate! With half a dozen elections coming up in Europe, Trump’s inauguration and the triggering of Article 50 to take Britain out the European Union, we’re gonna have to endure a lot more. I confined my posts to two insightful pieces by respected right-wing Australian commentators, Paul Kelly’s Living in Interesting Times, and Greg Sheridan’s The Loss of American Virtue, and my own reflection on the right-wing media’s strange fascination with “insiders” and “outsiders”.

Finally, in comparison to last year, this year was very light on music and poetry. But American satirist Tom Lehrer got a retrospective, and murdered Pakistani qawwali singer Madhaf Sabri, an obituary, whilst an abridged and vernacular version of John Milton’s Paradise Lost told the tale of Lilith, the first and greatest femme fatale. In the words of the gloriously-named jockey Rueben Bedford Walker III says in EC Morgan’s magnificent The Sport of Kings, the subject of my first post for 2017, “Malt does more than Milton can to justify God’s ways to man”.

On that wise note,  I wish the world a Happy New Year – and may it be less interesting than this one.

In That Howling Infinite  is now on FaceBook. Check it out.  And just for the fun of it, here’s my review of 2015.

The Sabri Brothers

Dore Luciifer

Lilith – a poem of ‘the Fall’ by Meniscus Diabetes

As far as we know, Meniscus Diabetes was born in Rome in 25 CE, and acquired his poetic licence during the reign of Emperor Claudius. He had an abiding interest in Rome’s eastern provinces, and one of his surviving manuscripts is this epic ballad. See Roman Holiday – The Perils of a Poet  in Nero’s Rome.

Lilith is a retelling of the “Legend of the Fall”. The style of Lilith differs markedly from that of other poems attributed to Meniscus – most notably the Hebrew Heroes cycle (again, refer to Roman Holiday), and was evidently written for a different manner of presentation. It was most likely written to be recited rather than sang (as were his other “story songs”). Recitations were a common form of entertainment in the middle Roman period, owing their popularity to the enduring reputations of the “classical” writers of the time, Ovid, Horace and the like. It was not uncommon for such recitations to last several hours. But Meniscus, mindful of the fast moving times, and also of the attention span of his audiences, appears to have honed his pieces down to between ten or fifteen minutes.

If Meniscus’ tale of Adam, Eve, Lilith and Lucifer has not been lost to literature until its very recent discovery, one wonders whether John Milton would have bothered to retell it in such lengthy and verbose detail.

Lilith, however, has been around for thousands of years. In the Talmud, she is described as a winged demoness with a human appearance. She appears in the bible, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in Hebrew folklore, and has been mentioned in black magic treatises. The apocryphal story is that Lilith was Adam’s first wife. God made Adam from dirt and clay. Adam bored, requested a companion, and God obliged with Lilith. Legend has it that her dirt was dirtier than Adam’s, but put that down to patriarchal prejudice and propaganda. More likely, she had the dirt on him! But I digress. Apparently, Lilith was not as inferior to Adam as he wanted. She wanted to be her own person, not Adam’s wife-slave. The story is that when Adam insisted on the missionary position, Lilith refused, saying “Why must I lie beneath you? We are both equal. We come from the same earth”. Adam got mad, and Lilith took off.

Because of this, she was banished from Eden and became a spirit associated with the seductive side of a woman. Eve came in her place to stand behind Adam, not beside him. Lilith became the timeless femme fatale, preying on the easily tempted weaker sex, the fabled incubus who comes at night upon men as they sleep. It is not for nothing that she has been hailed the (informal) goddess of wet dreams.

The legends are many and various. If you buy into the Lilith theory, you will see her cropping up throughout history in a variety of guises. In biblical times: Delilah, Salome, and Potophar’s wife. In fact and fable: Sheherazade, Lucrezia Borgia, Mata Hari, Evita Peron. Hollywood’s screen ‘sirens’ like Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marilyn Monroe. All of them antitheses to secular saints like Eve, Mary Magdalene, Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale, Jackie Onassis, Mother Theresa, and Princess Diana.

Long time ago In a time before time,
When man was an atom in primeval slime,
When darkness lay hard on the face of the deep,
God called for his angels to sing him to sleep.

God made these angels from the fire ‘neath his throne,
Gave them existence and thought them his own.
‘Til one fiery angel professed discontent
At the whole pointless purpose to which he’d been sent.

He expressed his dissent towards God’s Constitution,
Fomented unrest and unleashed revolution.
The shackles of God he now deigned to throw off
With his old black beret and his Kalashnikov.

So Lucifer made for celestial hills,
Preaching an end to society’s ills;
Whilst God, declaration of martial law made,
And dispatched forthwith Michael’s Archangel brigade.

They tracked down the rebels to their mountain lair,
And challenged them forth for to give battle there.
Brave Lucifer fought and at terrible cost.
God, Paradise saved; he, Paradise lost!

From fire he came and to fire he descended,
And thus the battle for Paradise ended.
And bold Lucifer from sight of God, now rejected,
Reduced down to basics a mate he selected.

Having fought hard and failed, life just wasn’t the same,
So he sought to continue the family name.
He gathered the girls of his wandering band,
To choose the best and the brightest in his new found land.

He chose Lilith the Fair, he chose Lilith the wild,
Lilith the wonderful archangel child.
The grace and the charm of this heavenly belle
Did brighten the darkness of exile in Hell.

Her beauty brought visions of Heaven so bright;
Her songs fired the furnace of Hell’s fiery night;
Her dancing filled all of the exiles’ desire,
And upstaged the flames of the infernal fire.

But Lilith, a gypsy, quite soon got the shits
With the workaday life of her husband’s hot pits.
She yearned for adventure, she longed for to run
Naked and nimble, ‘neath God’s newborn Sun.

So she ventured to Earth and quite soon did perceive
That a fellow called Adam was fed up with Eve.
He’d never forgiven, he’d let his heart harden
Since she’d let him down badly that day in the Garden.

And Lilith knew well in her womanly way
That Adam was close to going astray.
She took off her wings and right at him, she hurled,
As if he was the only man left in the world.

(Which he was, in a way, in a manner of talking –
His sons, Cain and Abel, had not started walking.
And the Daughters of Eve, were infants at best –
And none had discovered the art of incest).

So Lilith moved in with her serpentine charm.
Poor Eve was pushed out in a state of alarm.
But you don’t press the point, you don’t try to shrug off
The aim of old Lucifer’s Kalashnikov!

She bunked up with Adam for seven score years
and pandered to all of his passions and fears.
But just like a man, he took her for granted
‘Til she said, “No more”! And her cloven feet, planted.

She made his life hell, (well, she knew all about it).
Poor Adam was grieved and rushed outdoors to shout it:
“Oh God, must you let me go through this alone?”
A voice said: “This party is not on the ‘phone!”

Then one day she took off , went to live with her sister
And true to his kind, our pal, Adam, he missed her.
He prayed to the Lord for to fetch his girl back
So the Lord sent three angels to pick up her track.

Now, Lilith went wild, when she found she was followed;
Fled into the night, and in shadows was swallowed.
And from that day to this she has been on the run,
Ne’er more to gaze on the face of the Sun.

Banished forever from Lucifer’s bed,
She wanders the world seeking mortals instead.
And in darkness of night when tired mankind is sleeping,
Out of the shadows, fell Lilith comes creeping.

Taking revenge for old Adam’s conceit,
She searches the land town by town, street by street.
House by House, ’til alone in your bed, you’re discovered;
In the wink of an eyelid, by Lilith you’re covered.

You’re caressed with the touch of a cold, seizing hand;
You’re rocked by a tremor you don’t understand;
You’re fastened upon with a grip of a vice;
And her lips are like coals and her body’s like ice;

And you’re trapped in your bed with no strength to resist,
Yet you feel that this moment’s too good to be missed.
And you wake in the morning, a terrible mess,
And you know then that Lilith has found your address!

    Illustration by Gustave Doré, from Paradise Lost

Tolkien’s Tarkeeth – Images of Isengard

JRR had never heard of the Tarkeeth Forest, but if he had, I am certain he would have had some harsh words for the clear-felling that is razing our forest even as I write.

In 1962, he wrote:

“Every tree has its enemy, few have an advocate. In all my works I take the part of trees against all their enemies”.

In 1972, just over a year before his death, he wrote:

“Dear Sir,

With reference to the Daily Telegraph of June 29th, I feel that it is unfair to use my name as an adjective qualifying ‘gloom’, especially in a context dealing with trees. In all my works I take the part of trees as against all their enemies. Lothlorien is beautiful because there the trees were loved; elsewhere forests are represented as awakening to consciousness of themselves. The Old Forest was hostile to two legged creatures because of the memory of many injuries. Fangorn Forest was old and beautiful, but at the time of the story tense with hostility because it was threatened by a machine-loving enemy. Mirkwood had fallen under the domination of a Power that hated all living things but was restored to beauty and became Greenwood the Great before the end of the story.

It would be unfair to compare the Forestry Commission with Sauron because as you observe it is capable of repentance; but nothing it has done that is stupid compares with the destruction, torture and murder of trees perpetrated by private individuals and minor official bodies. The savage sound of the electric saw is never silent wherever trees are still found growing.”

( JRR Tolkien Letters 241 and 339)

Yes, he really did say “Forestry Commission” – an old British statutory authority that bears no relation to our own government-owned Forestry Corporation, but keep Sauron and also Saruman in mind as you read the following.

Images of Isengard

Images of Isengard

As I survey the desolation of the Tarkeeth, I remember the words of poets long-departed.

Thomas Hardy, in his poignantly uplifting ‘The Darkling Thrush’:

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

And TS Elliot, in ‘The Wasteland’, a title so prophetically apt when I view the impact of clear-felling on what was until barely a week ago was a diverse ecosystem that had prospered in a failed monoculture plantation (See: my post ‘If You Go Down To the Woods Today):

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.

Tarkeeth Burning

Tarkeeth Burning

In posts to this blog, I endeavour as much as I can to maintain balance, and to avoid overly partisan positions. Today, please forgive me as I break my rule, and reproduce an open letter to the people of Bellingen Shire, the place I call my home, by local farmer, counsellor, forest protector, and mother, Susan Weil. It is a detailed but succinct explanation of what is happening right now in the Tarkeeth Forest.

Read on…

Tarkeeth morning, And Tarkeeth evening. What a difference a day makes

Tarkeeth morning, Tarkeeth evening
What a difference a day makes

The Birds are screaming!  Listen!

Tarkeeth Forest – Wrong Method, Wrong Place

There are consistent misconceptions in our community about the Tarkeeth State Forest. One of them is that we (forest community & concerned peoples) don’t want a single tree cut down (a bit silly for anyone to claim this given our appetite for timber products) and that we are making a big fuss about a plantation whose sole purpose for being there is to provide a consistent supply of quality hardwood products for our community, generating jobs and boosting our local economy.

Some facts: There are between two to three harvesting machines on site ( that translates to three employees) the rest of the jobs are for the haulage truck drivers and a few onsite operation managers. If we are talking about jobs perhaps we should be asking many of the out of work loggers that have been here for generations, many of whom would consider themselves conservationists. Perhaps if we have a conversation with any of these men they would take pride in telling you how well they managed our forests for many years prior to mechanisation and without the environmental fallout associated with clear felling.

They logged selectively and if they did their job properly their methodology would actually help stimulate forest re growth, preserve habitat and support forest diversity. None of these men are being employed by forestry, in fact many of them have been replaced by mechanised corporations like forestry and their livelihoods have been made redundant. So if you’re jumping up and down about job security perhaps you’re just talking about haulage drivers and a small handful of operators not the actual loggers themselves, because I can assure you their not benefitting from clear felling. In fact if we stop clear felling and work with best practise which is selective logging and revert back to more traditional methods then our haulage contractors would be employed far more regularly and consistently then they are currently.

If you’re talking about good quality timber, again you’re mistaken, the majority of all of these forests are flooded gum and as such there will be no profits made from this project. Forestry corporation have admitted that our “Jewel in the crown” as they keep referring to our valley is going to be an assett to them in 40 years time, thats an asset for them not us.

Forestry is currently clear felling the Tarkeeth, Kallang, Tuckers Nob, Newry and Pine creek. That’s a massive cumulative effect of aggressive clear felling in a small valley that sits between the Bellingen river, the Kalang and the Never Never Rivers. You don’t need a science degree to understand the effect that cumulative clear felling will have on our waterways and environment long term as the near extinction of our river turtles showed last year.

I’m hard pressed to find a boost to our local economy (Bellingen itself) bar a few employees for a limited period of time. This operation will end in a few years and provide minimal employment for another 40-50 years. Responsibly managed, selective logging would provide far more jobs far more consistently for this community.

In theory, plantations are an excellent idea in helping to preserve our native forests, but like all good theories in the wrong hands and with poor foundations it doesn’t always translate that well into reality. For instance, the current Plantations and Reafforestation Act 1999 was created by the very same governmnet that currently owns Forestry Corporation. The current Act allows Forestry Corporation to conduct their business with minimal community opposition and one has to wonder about the integrity of any business that can operate in whatever manner they choose without any accountability.

Forestry Corporation claims they have consulted closely with local residents to balance the needs of all stakeholders. The true translation of this means they sat down with the community and told them what they were going to do and ignored and rejected all of the residents requests that would impede their project. Thus grossly betraying the community consultation process. But it’s true they did consult with the community.

They told us they worked closely with the local indigenous community to balance their needs. Whilst I can’t and won’t speak for our indigenous community, suffice to say I think this has been grossly miscommunicated and very poorly managed on all fronts.

The Plantation and Reafforestation Act hasn’t been amended since 1999 (other then to change the name to a Corporation in 2012) and as such lacks current environmental and social standards that are being upheld in the private plantation act and native forest act, both of which are far more stringent in their assessment processes. Why hasn’t the Act been updated in 17 years to reflect current world views and environmental standards?

Forestry Corporations Plantation and Reafforestation Act works on a state wide minimum standard, which means that if there is a plantation in an area of high risk such as all of those found in Bellingen ( steep slopes and high rainfall) they do not have to make any special provisions for these deviations to the standard. They can continue to operate under the same standards regardless of the location. How can this be considered best practise?

One of these standard states a 20m buffer zone for riparian zones. This is hardly ample given the amount of chemicals they plan to use and our high rainfall and steep slopes. You don’t need to be a genius to do the math to see the shortfall and the consequences of that insufficient standard.

The harvest and haulage plan stipulates that Forestry Corporation will commence replanting their new seedlings between 12-18 mths after harvesting, now I’m a farmer, and no decent farmer would ever leave 128 hectares fallow with our heavy rainfall, it would be over run by a myriad of fast growing weeds hence their need to use a chemical cocktail of thousands of litres of glyphosate,metsulfurin, liase and pulse penetrant to manage the weed problem. If a methodology adopted creates another environmental problem such as this how can we accept this as best practise when clearly it is in breach of this? This happened in Gladstone State forest two years ago when as a result of the leaving the forest fallow in excess of 18 months they wanted to deal with the weed infestation (they created ) by aerial spraying. Have Forestry Corporation learned nothing from their previous mistakes? Yet the Tarkeeth harvest plans show no amendment to previous errors, which is obviously very concerning for us. Best practise would demand they replant immediately after harvesting thus mitigating the need for the use of any chemicals in the first place.

Forestry Corporation continues to talk about sustainability when it comes to their forest management plan, but in actual fact, they are only referring to the fact that they will be replacing the existing crop with another. That’s not sustainability that’s just called succession cropping. Sustainability should infer methodology.

One of the definitions of sustainability is “The endurance of systems and processes which includes the four interconnected domains: ecology, economics, politics and culture.”

Sustainability should relate to Forestry Corporations capacity to preserve and look after the environment (soils, habitat, wildlife, waterways and communities) to engage in meaningful dialogues with local community members and adopt their ideas and concerns into their plans, to provide long lasting and consistent employment for local community members and to show respect and care for indigenous sacred sites and artefacts.

Forestry Corporation should be using “best sustainable ” practises such as selective logging to minimise soil disturbance and erosion, to promote biodiversity within the forest and to do away with the need to manage weeds via chemical applications which would not be a problem if the earth were not disturbed in the first place.

Sustainability should include ongoing jobs for ethical logging practises and should include a meaningful dialogue with residents that provides outcomes for everyone’s interests not just the agenda of the corporation itself. We call that best practise.

According to the Forestry haulage and harvest plan they are replanting a chemical dependent monoculture plantation of Blackbutt (90%) and tallowood (10%). This is an interesting point. Forestry has claimed there were no koalas residing in this forest despite statutory declarations provided by residents sighting them and including an independent field study conducted by an ecologist for a Tarkeeth resident. Yet forestry plan to plant tallowood for the same koalas they believe aren’t there and then they plan to destroy the habitat and food source in 40 years.

A research study conducted by forestry commission stated that Tallowwood was slow growing and failed to thrive in this region that white mahogany and Black Butt were the preferred species. Given that, why would Forestry choose to plant this species given its poor performance and in doing so attract a threatened species only to have its habitat and food source removed? It doesn’t seem to add up, whichever way you look at it.

Under the inadequate Plantaction and Reafforestation Act Forestry Corporation can legally behave as corporate vandals, their not breaking any laws because they created a document to protect themselves from any community backlash. Why?

Well we now know the answer to all of our concerns. In 1999 when the Act was created on the back of an environmental push from activists to protect native forests and move towards plantations (a move we support) the government did not want to allow any room for communities and environmentalists to challenge or impede their business. They knew that a plantation if left for 40-50 years to mature would build its own ecosystem, that the native forest would compete and a native understory would develop attracting native wildlife making it hard to tell if indeed it was just a plantation or a diverse forest.

So, to ensure there was no opposition they created a guaranteed harvest plan, to ensure that nothing and no one could impede or prevent a harvest from being carried out. Hence the current Plantation and Reafforestation Act 1999. They created an Act that makes it impossible for anyone to legally challenge their methodologies or practises and it prevents them from being sued as the Act is so lax that it’s impossible to hold them accountable as their not breaking any laws. They wrote their own law.

As a community we have the right to say NO this is not okay, this is not best practise and this is not good for our town long term. We understand their running a business but we want them run it better. Is that unreasonable of us to ask for that?

As a community we have a right to protect our “Jewel in the Crown,” we are in fact protecting Gumbaynggirr land, always was always will be. I believe we can do so for the benefit of all the stakeholders involved. I don’t believe that we need to compromise for the sake of a Corporation that legally manages this land on OUR behalf and is not following best practise and is simply serving their own agenda.

This community would support a well run, responsibly managed selective logging business that balances the needs of all. Why would we not demand that they manage OUR land better? Why is this community squabbling over a plantation when what we are really talking about is ending clear felling and adopting better methodologies and best practise that allows us to have our cake and eat it too. What’s not to support here? Am I missing something ?

To remedy this situation we need accountability and responsible governance – but therein lies the root of this problem. To do that we need to change the laws and amend the Act. That is not an easy process in itself and to do that we need community support.

It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and commentate on this issue, it’s clearly divided opinions in our community and that’s always challenging to deal with. But for those whose lives are being directly impacted by this it’s hard to really understand the anxiety, sadness and fear they face on a daily basis. We rarely act on something unless it affects us directly, I guess that’s human nature but please try and have some compassion for the people who are dealing with this day in and day out as they watch a place they love and cherish being torn apart by a corporation that really doesn’t give a damn.

To feel powerless to affect change is a horrible place to live and whilst it’s easy to get caught up in the semantics of this campaign try and remember that people we care about are hurting over this. I don’t know if the community will ever see eye to eye on this for a myriad of reasons but I hope that within this process we can still hang on to our humanity and see beyond the story.

Susan Weil, Bellingen, 17th August 2016.

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Nothing quite prepares you for the devastation of clear felling. Joby, a Gumbaynggirr elder, surveys the Tarkeeth

Nothing quite prepares you for the devastation of clear felling.                                                                 Joby, a Gumbaynggirr elder, surveys the Tarkeeth

 

 

 

 

Harald Went A Viking

When we were in Istanbul in 2014, we were particular keen to see the famous Viking graffiti on a rail of the gallery of the beautiful Aya Sofya basilica. And there indeed it was, carved by Halvden, a 9th Century soldier of the Emperor’s Varangarian Guard, an elite force of Viking mercenaries. The name Varangarian derives from the Greek via Old Norse væringi or ‘pledge’.

This year, we visited York, successively a Roman, Saxon, and Viking city.

I have an intense interest in connections, in the valences that link people, times, and places. And in York, there were many. Constantine, the creator of the Byzantine Empire, and founder of Constantinople, was declared emperor here on the death in York of his father. His statue sits (literally) outside York Minster. The Roman brickage we saw in Ephesus, Palmyra, and Jerusalem was replicated here in York, and in the forts of Hadrian’s Wall. And it was exciting to discover another connection to Istanbul, and that long-departed Viking warrior.

Viking Grafitti in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Viking graffiti in the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

My story recalls one the most famous dates in English history, the the Battle of Hastings. But I shall not retell the story of that battle, nor of the battle at Stamford Bridge which preceded it. Rather, I will describe one particular Viking’s adventurous journeying before he met his doom near York in September 1066.

Harald Sigurdsson, named Hardrada (“Stern Counsel” or “Hard Ruler”), was born about 1015, and he was the first King to perish in 1066. King of Norway, his appetite grew with the eating, and he made unsuccessful plays for the thrones of Denmark and England. Failing the first, he invaded and raided east of what was then Eoforic (formerly Roman Eboracum, Viking Jorvik, and today, York). His protagonist that day was one Harold Godwinson of Wessex, otherwise known as Harold II, King of England. Harold marched his army all the way up to Eoforic to confront his almost-namesake and Harald’s ally, one Tostig Goodwinson, Saxon turncoat and also, Harold’s embittered brother. In four days, Harold marched his army 180 miles from London, meeting and defeating Harald and Tostig at Stamford Bridge, just east of York. Hearing that William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy had landed near Hastings to challenge his claim to the English throne, King Harold then marched his army south again. 241 miles this time. The rest, as they say, is history.

King Harald is not hard to find on the Internet. There are websites, histories, and even novels that tell his story in lesser and greater detail. And, rumour has it, Leonardo DiCaprio is pondering the prospect of making a movie about him, and possibly starring in it. There are also many resources dealing with the Varangarian Guard. I recommend Frank Westenfelder’s succinct blog history of mercenaries, Soldiers of Misfortune. So what follows is my own sensationalist synopsis, written as much for entertainment as for education.

As a teen Harald was caught up in internecine warfare between battling Viking eorls. Brothers and half-brothers, rebels and pretenders fought for lands and crowns in the realms that now constitute Scandinavia. Young Harald often fought and failed, and on failing, he fled. He washed up in Kyivan Rus on Lake Ladoga, east of present day Petersburg, and then entered the service of Grand Prince Jaroslav or (Yaroslavl) the Wise in Novgorod. The principality of Kyivan Rus, by the by, was the predecessor of today’s Ukraine, Russia, and Belorussia, and was established and ruled for over a century by Viking warriors. Harald captained the Grand Prince’s soldiery and, so the sagas sing, paid court to Jaroslav’s beautiful daughter Elesiv (Elisabeth). Ukrainian historians maintain that Yaroslavl actually ruled in raked in Kyiv and that his daughter was called Yelizaveta; but they tell the same story.

In Jaroslav’s service, Harold fought Poles, Estonians, Turkic nomads, and Byzantines. He eventually took five hundred Viking warriors to Constantinople – the Norsemen called it Mickelgard, or Great City – where his martial reputation saw him rise to head the Varangarian Guard, that same mob that our Istanbul graffitist served in. Whilst this was specifically the emperors’s bodyguard, as an elite force, it fought on the empire’s frontiers against Arab pirates and raiders, marauding nomads from the steppes, Saracens, Normans and Bulgarians. The sagas say that Harald even traveled to Jerusalem – the Vikings called it Jorsalberg – protecting caravans of Christian pilgrims. Just picture it. A brigade of Norseman slashing and bashing their way through the wadis and wastelands of Syria, fifty years before the first crusaders put Jerusalem to the sword.

Harald passed twelve years in Byzantium departing a wealthy warrior. Not that his leaving was without complications. Implicated in murky financial dealings (including a fair amount of looting and blackmail), Byzantine power struggles, and, possibly, an illicit love affair with the Empress Zoe, he fled with his men in two ships. One was trapped by the famous chain that was strung across the Bosporus (see below for more details). but his boat reached the Black Sea and sailed thence to Rus’ once more, and the lovely Princess.

Elisef’s father, the renowned Jaroslav ‘the law giver’, was in fact the son of a Viking Varangarian, and this may have been a reason he gave Harald sanctuary and employment in the first place, and encouraged him to seek service in Constantinople. Whilst there, Harald had secured sufficient funds to finance a bid for the Norwegian throne. After much battling and bargaining, he succeeded, and indeed, ruled Norway for twenty years until he made the fateful decision to try his hand in England.

Tostig was angry that Harold has taken the earldom of Northumbria away from him, and so encouraged Harald to challenge his brother’s disputed claim to the English throne. It is mooted that Viking Harald and French William each believed that he had been promised said crown by the dying English king, Edward the Confessor. Both therefore came ashore with their forces to claim what they reckoned was their inheritance. Which was why the unfortunate Harold did his exhausting round-trip in September and October of 1066.

At Stamford Bridge, Harald’s long run of good fortune ran out. the Norns, having long ignored him, decided to cut his thread. The Viking army was heavily beaten, and Harald himself was struck in the throat by an arrow and killed early on in the battle in a state of “berserkergang” or “battle rage”. He wore no body armour nor carried a shield, fighting fiercely with both hands clutching his heavy sword. Dying thus, sword in his hand, he was assured entry into Valhalla.

There’s a  good account of 1066, the “year of the three battles”, in History Extra‘s story of the three battles that lost England.

And so our story ends. Scholars have considered Harald’s death in battle as the end of The Viking Age. He is also reckoned to have been the last great Viking king, indeed, the last great Viking.

© Paul Hemphill 2015

There is a song for every occasion, and with our our sojourn in York, and Viking fact and fiction echoing along its ersatz City Walls, I would like to share my very own Viking saga:

Further Reading

The Saga of Harald Hardrade

The original source for much of what we know of Harald is The Heimskringia Saga. therein is much more fascinating detail of his adventures, including the full story of his escape from Constantinople. All of Harald’s Varangarians piled onto two ships and rowed like crazy for the chain. As they approached, he had every man who wasn’t rowing pick up any baggage he had and run to the back of the boat, so that the prow of was raised and the stern lay low in the water. Thus, the ships managed to run themselves halfway up onto the chain, whereupon all the vikings at the stern ran to the front with their gear, so that the ships tilted forward and came down on the other side. At least, that was the plan. Harald’s ship made it but the other broke its keel and sank, along with half of his men. The Saga is available in the online Gutenberg Library. Go to Saga 8, The Saga of Harald Hardrade.

Anglo Saxon Varangarians

An exciting addition to the saga of the Varangarian Guard is recent evidence that in the wake of they Norman Conquest, Saxon exiles emigrated from conquered England and joined the Emperor’s bodyguard. They acquired quite a reputation for martial prowess, and were believed to have established a city in what is today the Crimean Peninsula. Read Caitlin Green’s well-written post: New England on the Black Sea

The Vikings of Rus

The principality of Kyivan Rus, with its capital at Kyiv,  was established and ruled for over a century by Viking warriors who ventured south down the great rivers of today’s Ukraine, Russia, and Belorussia. The Viking age lasted from the end of the eighth century to the latter half of the eleventh.

The vikings raided and traded, subjugated and ruled whole countries or parts thereof, transforming existing politics and creating new ones. In so doing, they butted up against the Byzantine Empire, even reaching the gates of Constantinople itself. Envoys of the king of Rus first came to the city in 838, offering peace, friendship and trade. But there was also conflict. In 860, Vikings besieged the city and passing through the Bosporus into the Mediterranean, plundered Byzantine-controlled islands. This was repeated in 959.

Over time, relations became much more cordial. Prince Volodymyr the Great of Kyiv converted to Christianity in 988, a purely political move to secure the goodwill of the Byzantine empire, his most powerful and dangerous neighbour. He adopted the Byzantine orthodoxy, thus drawing  him closer to the empire, and proceeded to convert his subjects. Alliances of mutual benefit were formed, with Vikings fighting Byzantium’s border wars, and were often sealed with marriages between Viking lords and Byzantine princesses.

Constantinople was like a lode star to the Vikings. The princes of Kyivan Rus were attracted to its wealth and commerce, and also to the power, prestige and high culture. Indeed, they endeavoured to replicate it on the Dnieper. Voldymyr’s grandson Yaroslav/Jaroslav (he’s acclaimed by both Ukraine and Russia) rebuilt Kyiv in Byzantium’s image, in brick and stone, built a magnificent cathedral modeled on Theodosius’ Aya Sofia, naming it Saint Sofia, and a raised a Golden Gate like that in the Great City. Princes in other cities followed Kyiv’s example.

Everything was violently undone in 1238 when the Mongols invaded Kyivan Rus, and Kyiv itself was devastated in 1240, and did not recover its former importance and prosperity for centuries. Yet, the cathedral of St Sophia still stands in the heart of Kiev, as it has done for almost a millennium, its golden domes a symbol of the advent of Christianity in eastern Europe.

There’s a fascinating account of Kyivan Rus See Serhii Plokhy’s history of Ukraine, The Gates of Europe.

Read more in In That Howlong Infinite :

Kirkwall Cathedral, Shetland, UK

Kirkwall Cathedral, Shetland, UK

What Have the Romans Done for Us?

What? Caligula didn’t really put his horse Incitatus into the Senate, order his legionaires to gather seashells for his combat with Neptune, God of the Sea, or sleep with his sister and later kill her? Nero didn’t fiddle whilst Rome burned, or attempt to drown his mother in a collapsible boat? And kicking his pregnant wife to death may have been domestic violence carried too far.

What? Julius Caesar didn’t cry “Et tu Brute?” to the leader of his assassins? Augustus’ second wife Livia was not the arch-poisoner portrayed by Robert Graves in “I Claudius”?. Tiberius wasn’t won’t to swim with naked little boys nibbling at his naughty bits? Claudius wasn’t a gentle old duffer who wouldn’t hurt a fly?

In her highly readable, popular history of Royal, Republican and Imperial Rome, acclaimed British historian Mary Beard consigns these and other popular Roman apocrypha to the Urban Legend file. Which may cause a certain degree of distress for those of who like their history garnished with a few saucy anecdotes (click on Roman Holiday in the menu above this post).

She attributes these highly entertaining stories to prurient scandal-mongering, sensationalism, and the vicarious pleasure of folks with dirty minds, and, significantly, to political spin and perception-management on the part of the kings, tyrants and emperors, and of heirs and successors responsible for creating, embellishing, and sustaining the public record. At one point, she states matter-of-factly that those who were assassinated were portrayed post-mortem as tyrants, sadists or perverts – or in a case of “the worse the better” “all of the above”! No wonder Roman emperors portrayed in “sword and sandal” movies from ‘The Robe’ and ‘Barrabas’ to ‘Gladiator’, are, like Lord Byron, “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”.

Caligula may or may not have been the bad lad we know so well, via Bob Guccione and John Hurt. Beard insists on calling him by his proper name, Gaius, rather than his childhood nickname, the horrorshow-sounding Caligula. The amiable, bookish Claudius was as ruthless and as brutal an autocrat as any of his predecessors and successors, dispatching scores of recalcitrant or lecherous senators to Hades (incidentally, it was Domitian who liked hurting flies). So too was Marcus Aurelius, the “philosopher king”, author of wise sayings and aphorisms, and beloved of adolescent philosophers.

Nero might not have been any worse or better than the others. Indeed, Beard argues, the fact that several Nero pretenders popped up, lyre and all, in various places after his death, demonstrates that he mightn’t have been all that unpopular, particularly in the provinces. Indeed, Beard suggests, Rome’s subjects in far-flung provinces would have had very little knowledge of or interest in the political shenanigans and sexual peccadillos of their rulers. Their only acquaintance with their emperor would have been with statues and the royal visage on the change in their pockets.

With Rome’s tabloid icons falling like flies (Domitian liked to torture them, by the way), thank Zeus Mary kept her revisionist hands of my all-time favourite classical baddie, King Herod the Great.

SPQR – Senatus Populusque Romanus, the Senate and People of Rome – challenges assumptions and preconceptions about the history of Rome, about the expansion of its empire, and about its citizens. For example, the accepted belief that the Romans were more rapacious and war-like, and much better organized than their neighbours – in early days, those who lived near the city state, neighbouring lands in Italy, and after a very short time, kingdoms, states, and chiefdoms as far apart as Caledonia in the west and Armenia in the east.

Rome’s neighbours and rivals were indeed just as aggressive, territorial, and acquisitive as the early kings who expanded their territories throughout Italy, the republican consuls and imperial generals who pushed the frontiers into Western Europe, the Balkans, Asia Minor, and the Middle East. Rome’s rivals, peers and enemies included formidable leaders and war lords with names like early contemporaries like Alexander and Artaxerxes. Enemies like Hannibal Barca, Spartacus, Vercingetorix, Armenius, and Boudica.

But SPQR isn’t all just about personalities and geopolitics. Beard delves into the dynamics of power in the state itself. How Rome, the city state and later, the empire were actually run. How powerful and influential individuals collaborated and collided in their quest for wealth and influence. And how rewarding and also how tenuous and dangerous life at the top could be. Whilst Beard would question Robert Graves’ portrayal of the Augustine emperors, she would not quibble with his take on the tension, uncertainty and risk endured by ambitious Romans who gambled for high stakes rather than going with the flow and keeping their heads down.

Most, indeed, did choose to keep their heads down, and endeavour to live a quite normal life. A life which, for those at the top of the social and economic ladder, could be very comfortable indeed. For those further down the socio-economic staircase, all was not so pleasant and delightful. Rather, for both free man and slave it was a life of toil and hardship literally from the cradle to the grave. Child Labour, long hours, unsafe working conditions, seven days a week. No weekend rest, no retirement benefits, no insurance cover. Ordinary people worked as soon as they could hold a pick or shovel, until injury, age or infirmity rendered them unproductive and expendable. But there was time for leisure, and contrary to modern preconceptions, it was not always bread and circuses. As in our own day and age, folk were more likely to have sought solace in the bottle and good fortune in the dice.

Using the limited archeological sources available – whilst the lives of important Romans are well examined, those of ordinary people are rare indeed – Beard illuminates her narrative with snapshots of the everyday lives of regula Antonys and Antonias. Although bits and pieces have been unearthed in settlements from North Africa to the Balkans, Pompeii and Herculaneum are a particularly rich source, as are the forts along Hadrian’s Walls, on the northern edge of empire. The wonderful Vindolanda tablets have preserved a picture of the oh-so-normal lives of transplanted souls so far away from home. See my earlier post, Roman Wall Blues.

The vignettes of Pompeii and Vindolanda illustrate one of Beard’s leitmotifs – the fact that Rome and Romans were much, much more than the city founded by the wolf-raised twins Romulus and Remus. Roman-ness and Romanization were as much a state of mind as a temporal, political imperium. People of all races, tribes, nations, and faiths from Spain to Syria, from Caerleon to Carthage, adopted Roman ways, institutions, commodities, food and beverages, artifacts, and even Latin names, to a greater or lesser degree depending on their proximity to Roman camps and towns, to Roman trade routes, and ultimately, to Roman authority. And many acquired Roman citizenship. And they entered Rome’s service, as soldiers, scholars, public servants, and politicians. By the end of the second century, some fifty percent of the senators were provincials.

Other histories of Rome have ended with the conversion of Constantine to Christianity in 337 CE signaling the end of pagan antiquity, or with the sack of Rome by the Visigoths 410. Beard closes instead with the “culminating moment,” in 212 when the emperor Caracalla declared every free inhabitant of the empire a full Roman citizen – almost thirty million provincials became Roman overnight in one of the the biggest grants of citizenship in the history of the world. Beard comes to no definitive conclusion as to why the underwhelming Caracalla made this move, but it’s effect was momentous insofar as it eroded the distinction between the Romans and the people they had conquered, colonized, and ruled – the culmination of a process that had been going on for almost a millennium.

The final pages describe how in form, function, and faith, the Rome that departed the Third Century was not the one that Augustus built and Caracalla bequeathed to the many, short lived emperors who followed him in rapid succession during a time of political and social instability, rebellion and civil war, barbarian invasion and plague – until Constantine established his capital in the east and built the Roman world anew. And this new Rome, the Byzantine Empire, with its capital Constantinople, was to endure until it fell to the Ottoman sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453. The Holy Roman Empire, in Central Europe, was brought down by Napoleon in 1806, but as Voltaire observed, it was “neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire”. Take that!

Unexpectedly, Beard does not conclude her thought-provoking, and entertaining survey of Rome’s first millennium with a catalogue of the many ways we have benefitted or suffered from our Roman heritage. We do not have much to learn directly from the Romans, she writes, but we have much to learn about ourselves and the past by engaging with the history of the Romans, their poetry and prose, their controversies and arguments. “We do the Romans a disservice if heroize them, as much as we if we demonize them. But we do ourselves a disservice if we fail to take them seriously – and if we close our long conversation with them”.

On that note, concluding an invigorating walk down what Welsh poet RS Thomas called ‘the long road of history”, I will leave the last word to Monty Python.

Postscript

This post is my own take-out of an entertaining and educational ride through Roman history. Every published review approaches it from different angle according to the perspectives and passions of the writer. And I have done likewise.

Some Further Reading:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/SPQR:_A_History_of_Ancient_Rome

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/oct/28/spqr-history-ancient-rome-mary-beard

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/12/the-secret-of-romes-success/413143/

https://howlinginfinite.wordpress.com/roman-holiday/

http://www.vindolanda.com/

And some pieces from my ‘Roman’ period: