May. 25th, 2012

hawkwing_lb: (Helps if they think you're crazy)
Yearly rebaptism by ice and salt accomplished. The sea high, rolling moderately-sized breakers up onto the sand in the tiny bay between the headland and the harbour. A current dragging southeast along the shoreline, the water so murky you cannot see your feet. The smell of weed, the waft of old fish from the harbour, the rattle of a train coming into the station over the viaduct. The cringing moment before jumping headlong into a wave and the shock of cold as it breaks over your head.

More people on the beach than usual. Often it's all but deserted bar dog-walkers. Today Loreto girls (I was ever that young?) getting their too-long skirts wet in the surf, Polish families, a handful of Igbo women in flower-printed wraps, Irish people turning the traditional summer shade of Peeling Tomato: I left my kit beside a trio of young sunbathing possibly-Albanians (I am good with identifying foreign language groups but not that confident) and splashed off into the water for twenty minutes (roughly). I am all tingly and sleepy now, and decided to skip on going to town in favour of being a coffee shop yuppie - spending money I don't have in order to see if I can get more work done. Where work = writing a funding report in order to get a pathetically tiny amount of money. Still. Money.

Here's hoping this brief summer lasts a little longer.
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
Thucydides, Book 2, Chapter 3.

Section 1:

οἱ δὲ Πλαταιῆς ὡς ᾔσθοντο ἔνδον τε ὄντας τοὺς Θηβαίους καὶ ἐξαπιναίως κατειλημμένην τὴν πόλιν, καταδείσαντες καὶ νομίσαντες πολλῷ πλείους ἐσεληλυθέναι (οὐ γὰρ ἑώρων ἐν τῇ νυκτί) πρὸς ξύμβασιν ἐχώρησαν καὶ τοὺς λόγους δεξάμενοι ἡσύχαζον, ἄλλως τε καὶ ἐπειδὴ ἐς οὐδένα οὐδὲν ἐνεωτέριζον.

The men of Plataia apprehended thus that the Thebans were within and [apprehended that the Thebans] had unexpectedly seized the town, and fearing greatly and thinking that many more had entered (for they did not see in the night), they advanced to come to terms, and accepting the terms, they kept still did nothing, especially since they [ie, the Thebans] offered no violence to anyone.


Section 2:

πράσσοντες δέ πως ταῦτα κατενόησαν οὐ πολλοὺς τοὺς Θηβαίους ὄντας καὶ ἐνόμισαν ἐπιθέμενοι ῥᾳδίως κρατήσειν: τῷ γὰρ πλήθει τῶν Πλαταιῶν οὐ βουλομένῳ ἦν τῶν Ἀθηναίων ἀφίστασθαι.

But negotiating these matters, they perceived that there were not many of the Thebans and they thought - by making the attempt - to easily prevail over [the Thebans], for the throng of the Plataians were not wanting to desert the men of Athens.


Section 3:

ἐδόκει οὖν ἐπιχειρητέα εἶναι, καὶ ξυνελέγοντο διορύσσοντες τοὺς κοινοὺς τοίχους παρ᾽ ἀλλήλους, ὅπως μὴ διὰ τῶν ὁδῶν φανεροὶ ὦσιν ἰόντες, ἁμάξας τε ἄνευ τῶν ὑποζυγίων ἐς τὰς ὁδοὺς καθίστασαν, ἵνα ἀντὶ τείχους ᾖ, καὶ τἆλλα ἐξήρτυον ᾗ ἕκαστον ἐφαίνετο πρὸς τὰ παρόντα ξύμφορον ἔσεσθαι.

Therefore it seemed to them to be [the case that] they had to attack, and they rallied alongside each other by digging through the common walls, so that they would not be seen going through the streets, and they stood wagons without yokebeasts in the streets, so that they would be in place of walls to form barricades, and made ready the other things as it appeared appropriate for the things about to happen their preparations.


Section 4:

ἐπεὶ δὲ ὡς ἐκ τῶν δυνατῶν ἑτοῖμα ἦν, φυλάξαντες ἔτι νύκτα καὶ αὐτὸ τὸ περίορθρον ἐχώρουν ἐκ τῶν οἰκιῶν ἐπ᾽ αὐτούς, ὅπως μὴ κατὰ φῶς θαρσαλεωτέροις οὖσι προσφέροιντο καὶ σφίσιν ἐκ τοῦ ἴσου γίγνωνται, ἀλλ᾽ ἐν νυκτὶ φοβερώτεροι ὄντες ἥσσους ὦσι τῆς σφετέρας ἐμπειρίας τῆς κατὰ τὴν πόλιν. προσέβαλόν τε εὐθὺς καὶ ἐς χεῖρας ᾖσαν κατὰ τάχος.

After all in their power had been prepared, they kept watch while [it was] still night, and towards the beginning of the same dawn they advanced from the houses upon them [the Thebans], so that they would not lay hands upon be fighting [men] who would be better prepared after daybreak and would be engaged on an equal basis with the other men the enemy, but since in the night they'd be more fearful, [the enemy] would be weaker than their own men who had experience with the city. And so straight away they made their assault and went to hand[-to-hand] as quickly as possible.
hawkwing_lb: (Helps if they think you're crazy)
So iTunes just cued up Mystic Lipstick (Celtic Tenors cover), a folk song written in 1989 by Jimmy McCarthy. (McCarthy wrote a number of Christy Moore's folk hits.) And it seems strangely appropriate, because I've just finished watching an episode from the fourth series of Waking the Dead that featured Irish nationalism and British politics, and I have been having thinky thoughts about Romanticism rolling around in my head since I got back from Greece.

Greece has been terribly romanticised in its turn, of course. Leaving aside its mythological status as the Cradle of European Civilisation (a construct of the European Renaissance), the 18th century saw it constructed as a Romantic destination on the Grand Tour (et in Arcadia ego), a construct which bore little relationship to reality. The 19th century and the Greek war of independence saw the construction of a (self-built, internally contradictory) national mythology, and its growth as an Interesting Place for international Classically-interested archaeologists... well, let's just say that from a certain point of view the likes of Schliemann on the mainland and Evans in Crete contributed to the erection of Whole New Interesting Mythologies.

And now the stories northern Europe tells about Greece have to do with laziness and profligacy, and you know what? No more true than ROMANCE. Fuck off, ECB in Frankfurt. Look at some context.

Ireland did not, of course, see itself lionised and mythologised during the European Renaissance - quite the opposite, since the 16th century saw it viewed as a land of barbarians ripe for colonisation and the 17th century witnessed the repurposing of martyr and atrocity stories from the Thirty Years War to give voice to the anxieties and stife arising from the Rebellion of 1642 and the English Civil War - but the 18th century saw the beginnings of an interest in Irish antiquarianism and the start of a "national" impetus towards myth-making and - as the 19th century began - lionising the Catholic Emancipation movement in messianic and nationalistic terms. Nationalism and tenants' rights are the two major themes of Ireland's politics in the 19th century, and though the lack of a Home Rule victory until the 20th century prevented the canonisation of an officially-sanctioned nationalist mythology until much later, the pantheon contains numerous unofficial and contradictory saints. Complicating matters for Ireland is that its Protestant and Anglo heritage is much less easy to disavow than the Turkish heritage of Greece. If it is to be disavowed, it must be done in subtle terms, acknowledging Exceptional Anglo-Irishmen, casting the others as West Brits, betrayers of nationalism and the Historical Imperative of Irish Nationhood.

Then you have the Romantic Irish movement at the end of the 19th century, existing alongside Gaelic revivalism and the growing European antiquarian interest not only in "Celtic" cultures, but in magic and mysticism. No overview of Irish Romanticism is complete without an understanding of how the likes of Yeats and the rest of the Celtic Twilight literati partook of an international intellectual/literary atmosphere that included members of the Theosophical Society and the Order of the Golden Dawn. (And if anyone can point me to a solid and readable academic study that discusses this, I'd be grateful - I used to have a handful of references, but that was when I was still in school.) Lady Gregory was connected with figures from this milieu, and Yeats himself was a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn. A misty mysticism pervades much of Yeats' writing. He positioned himself as a "national poet" of the new Ireland, even after independence, and as many of the other literary figures who entered the national pantheon (Pearse, for example) not only died in the Rising or in the War of Independence/Civil War years, but had a vested interest in portraying their relationship to Irish Nationhood in mystical, quasi-religious, at times messianic terms (it is easier to get people to die if you position dying as a salvific act), misty mysticism pervades Irish literature of the late 19th and early 20th century.

It is an obscurantist haze layered over a complicated reality. What makes it worse is that misty mysticism - or at least its salvific/messianic nationalist offshoots - remain common currency in certain puddles of political rhetoric, and enjoyed a much wider currency than they do now within my own lifetime. (See Northern Ireland, pre-Peace Process.)

And both the misty mysticism and the complicated historical reality inform present national politics. But because our national myths (our dialectics, even!) rely all too much on the Romantic Mirage (and its obverse, the Lazy Irish Savage: hello, ECB! Our financial woes are actually mostly your fault, since you helped provide the credit - and then mandated the socialisation of debt - that got us to this point!), it is nearly impossible to even construct an argument about history today without engaging the Mirage. (The Mirage is politically useful, in that it elides discussion of class and the historical benefits conferred thereby: many of the present prominent political figures of the Republic have several generations of political connections, and those that do not generally come from publican or professional backgrounds.)

It's impossible to ignore it, you know. It just sits there, even if you never mention it, pulling the conversation askew with all the gravity of a soul-sucking black hole.

I say this, because I am contemplating opening Kevin Hearne's Tricked, which based on previous track record, will be an entertaining pseudo-Celtic mixed mythological romp set somewhere in the continental United States. While at the same time I am still reading Ian McDonald's King of Morning, Queen of Day - which at least in its first part, juxtaposes the weird and Romantic with the utterly mundane and is the better book for it. The more painful: but McDonald understands that the layers of the rotten onion (the Matryoska dolls of Irish mythology, each one stranger than the next) have a kind of recursive complexity impossible to reduce to linear clarity. The only possible shape is the spiral. Not the line, not the circle, but a twisted helix bending around an indefinable centre.

My analogy runs away from me. Still.

*rambles along, ramblingly*

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