Posted in Miscellany, Novellas, Poetry

New Possum’s Book of the Curious Cat

 

There’s once a cat name Romp Pomp Bunter, aka the Curious Cat,
who liked to romp with pomp and bunt his head against
his guardian, the woman with the beautiful but lonely heart.
She named him in rapt contemplation of the thought, of the thought
of his name; his ineffable, effable name, debonair and extraordinary.

The Romp Pomp Bunter has a secret that no one knows it:
The Romp Pomp Bunter once saw a grand statue of Bastet
In a book on the history of cats originating in ancient Egypt
And was so impressed with the splendid grace of the goddess
That he wanted to emulate the mysteriously beguiling poise
Even if he was a Californian moggie tomcat of Los Angeles.

But the Romp Pomp Bunter, ever the Curious and Adventurous,
An orphan kitten whose parents nobody knew or cared even,
Felt that he was originally from the Ancient World with a reason
That he looked nothing like the ordinary domestic short-haired,
The insignificant, the common, the trite, the obsequiously tamed
Breed of Cats that contrasted the Egyptian Mau, the First of Firsts
Endeared to Pharaohs, Queens, Priests, Soldiers, Farmers, and Artists.

So, the Romp Pomp Bunter believed that he was the Royal Descendant,
The indolently elegant, adoringly capricious, the inscrutably alluring
Egyptian Mau, the paragon of the goddess Bastet, divinely beguiling.
You see, that is why his name is the Romp Pomp Bunter, the Curious Cat.

 

Posted in book review

‘Ancient Greek Cavalry’ and Alexander the Great’s Companion – review

Ancient Greek Cavalry: The History and Legacy of Classical Greece’s Forgotten SoldiersAncient Greek Cavalry: The History and Legacy of Classical Greece’s Forgotten Soldiers by Charles River Editors

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The image of a gallant bedight knight on a steed heading for a romantic journey for El Dorado or a noble cause for joining a loyal cavalry would have been a laughing stock of the ancient Greek soldiers. They regarded cavalry soldiers as aristocratic good-for-nothing redundant auxiliary to the mighty phalanx composed of ordinary foot soldiers called hoplites. From the Bronze Mycenean age until the emergence of Macedonia as the Greek military superpower, the historical context of the ancient Greek cavalry reflected the signs of military and sociopolitical developments in the 5th century BC Greece and the world beyond. The book informs the reader of the background of the rise of the cavalry in ancient Greek society thanks to Alexander the Great and its effects on military and societal contexts proven to be timelessly brilliant.

First of all, the geographical factor of the Greek islands, in general, made it difficult for the effective use of horse-driven chariots in battles due to its mountainous terrain as illustrated by the Oracle of Delphi in the valley, the Mount Olympus, and other divine earthly places. The rocky roads were not conducive to heavily charged chariots, preventing them from maneuvering the moves swiftly in warfare. In fact, the introduction of a horse race in the Olympic Games where the wealthy horse breeders reconciled the equestrian equipment’s military value to a sports game’s monetary value.

Secondly, horses were expensive to breed and maintain, as they still are in our time, and only a few wealthy (the oligarchs) were able to own horses. So much so that Aristotle acknowledged that horse-breeding was not easy to do unless you were rich. Accordingly, the democratic ideal of the mingling of titles and the exertion of the synchronized force from the collaboration of duties for the common good excluded the value of cavalry whose soldiers were also outside the Homerian value of Arete, the highest soldierly code of honor consisting of military finesse and personal integrity. To the democratic minds, the pampered nobility on horseback in battlefields had a better chance to escape on a horse than its hoplites on foot who had to confront the rains of lances and strokes of swords showered in blood.

However, Philip II of Macedonia and his son Alexander the Great saved the grace of the falling Greek cavalry by the brilliant military innovation that reflected society’s progress in the economy and political contexts. Along with its loyal ally Thessaly, Macedonia was an oligarchy unlike its contemporary city-states run by the democratic populace that usually lacked the foresight of tactical military strategy due to a general contempt for the art of war held by experienced noble soldiers. Macedonian nobles, especially the young and ambitious noblemen, made up most of the excellent Macedonian army that fully utilized the offensive and defensive cavalry force into the phalanx. The offensive on the phalanx’s right flank, the Companion, consisted of 2000 trusted and honored members of the king’s inner circle, the oldest noble families of Macedonia. The defensive on the left side, “The Thessalian,” proved to effectively outflank the enemy force with as least casualty as possible on the Macedonian side. Such cracking military operational order surpassed the Persian scythed chariots’ hideousness, cutting men in halves, mangling the still breathing fragments on the wheels and the scythes.

The unprecedentedly thriving economy due to the discovery of gold and silver mines and minting of coins meant a stable government and expensive military maintenance. The state’s wealth made it possible for financing a standing cavalry in peacetime and on a campaign. The minting of coins under the unified currency system paid salaries to professional soldiers, unlike the unorganized military structures where soldiers were ill-equipped and poorly trained in the other Greek city-states’ armies.

Upon reading this book, I felt that the title should have been “The Wooden Trojan Cavalry of Macedonia” or “Alexander the Great and His Cavalry” for the staging of Macedonian Alexander the Great in the arena of the world’s superpower upended the archaic military organization, let alone ineffective strategies. The role and value of mounted soldiers corresponded with the notion that the economic progress propelled by the natural wit of a leader who integrated all society members, high and low, won the war most productively. Alexander’s democracy in military strategy elevated the status of contemptuous willy-nilly horseback soldiers to gallant bedight warriors. It shows the reader that true democracy means the magnanimous participation of all classes for the commonwealth of a country.



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The Heroic Age Revisited: ‘The Tale of Troy’, by Roger Lancelyn Green – review

The Tale of TroyThe Tale of Troy by Roger Lancelyn Green

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

History is a branch of literature woven by artists and artificers with stories full of events, places, and people embroidered on the latticework of time, which mirrors the invariable pith of humanity to posterity. In truth, history is a literary creation of reality in the habiliment of artistic imagination, which we call mythology. In this regard, The Tale of Troy by Roger Lancelyn Green is a refreshingly cracking retelling of historical Trojan War knitted together with mythological strands as though to be seen from a magical casement to the misty antiquity, which Herodotus defines as the Heroic Age of the Five Ages of Man (which, by the way, Ovid interestingly omitted in his Roman version of the Ages of Men) when divine immortals responded to your pleas directly and promptly and freely made love with their beautiful mortal subjects with unquelled divine lust.

Drawn on a compendium of classical narratives of ancient writers, principally Homer’s Iliad, Green retells the beginning and end of Trojan War, reprises the scenes of the heroic characters and capricious Immortals, and remasters the thematic theater of dramas collapsing a great divide of time and space with his genius story-telling skills as an erudite but affable raconteur. Green takes you to the wedding banquet of Menelaus and Helen in Sparta where the goddess of discord Eris first presented an apple of discord, to Paris of Troy happily living with Oenone, a mountain nymph, on Mount Ida, to the Greek Camp outside the Wall of Troy where Agamemnon and Achilles were having a row over their beautiful Trojan female captives, and to Odysseus’s 10-year journey back home in Ithaca. The tale of Troy regenerates more stories about the fates of the characters following the end of the epic war, which leads to the dawn of the Iron Age, the Age of Man, in which we live. The Tale of Troy is a literary equivalent of Matryoshka, a frame story that presents manifold stories that delight you with pleasant surprises.

The great Roman poet Horace once said it’s harder to treat a story in your own way. In fact, to retell a story is harder than to create one from void because it requires a special ability with the aid of natural wit to make the original source texts adapt to the contemporary readership of the time the author belongs to. To that effect, this book is a magical casement of the misty past told by a Homeric storyteller of our modern time who will take you to where the ancient ocean sends forth the breeze of the shrill Aegean Sea to let you sail an imaginary voyage with the Greek Kings and the Trojan refugees, while the Olympian gods are watching you from Mount Olympus.

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‘The Sumerians: A History From Beginning to End’, by Hourly History – review

The Sumerians: A History From Beginning to End (Mesopotamia History Book 1)The Sumerians: A History From Beginning to End by Hourly History

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have always been interested in this mysterious ancient people who were the first inventor of the systematic written language in the history of human civilization. No eminent academics have ascertained where they were from. Subsequently, many a civilization claimed to be their descendants, ranging from the Caucasians to the Indians and even to the Far Easterners. But one thing is certain that the civilization of this enigmatic people merits itself as the cradle of civilization on the grounds of the following characteristics: (1) social structure based upon diverse economic sectors; (2) religious system concomitant with system of government; (3) advances in technology contributing to the cultural and scientific enterprises; and (4) written language, which is the bedrock of any known human civilization. They were the Sumerians. In fact, the Sumerian legacies are the sine qua non of a broad substratum of our modern cultural and social infrastructure. Notwithstanding such contributions, the Sumerians are still veiled in mysterious mist; no one knows for sure where these people came from and then vanished, leaving us with their brilliant legacies as their gifts to human history. Which makes the Sumerians all the more interesting and enigmatic as vividly and elegantly related in this book.

The Sumerian civilization burgeoned in the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, also known as one of the River-Valley Civilizations, in modern day Iraq for almost 4,000 years. The staging of the Sumerians in history was akin to a dramatic entrance of a dark horse on stage. In around 3,300 B.C. a group of outsiders with “straight black heads” from nowhere, and they called themselves “Sumerians.” However shady and murky their backgrounds might be, the Sumerians were already smart and practical when they arrived at the land with their already fully developed written language and scientific knowledge, especially on irrigation systems. To elucidate, the priests oversaw the design and building of irrigation systems as something of civil engineers who also controlled the building of embankments to prevent flooding of agricultural land during rainy season in order to allow the rapid transport of produce from farms to cities. In fact, these two inventions are regarded as the most highly advanced and influential enterprises that betoken their cultural sophistication and engineering feats that are hardly inferior to those of ours in modern time. The irrigation resulted from a need of bringing water from the rivers to the fields, and the whole procedure was exclusively operated by the priests, who negotiated with farmers for water supply in exchange of a portion of the harvested crop.

With respect to the writing system, it is known as “the cuniform” engraved in the form of wedge-shaped markings made in wet clay using sharp reeds. And this the necessity of writing came from an accounting need of recording the amounts of agricultural produce. But the Sumerian writing was more than a language of commerce. It also blossomed into an art of literature modeled for other writings, such as famous biblical stories of the Garden of Eden, the Ark of Noah, and the Book of Job were all based upon Sumerian stories allegedly based upon true events that had occurred to them. Also, the words “saffron” and “cane” we use today are derived from the cuniform.

Since Sumerians also instituted farming of the land, instead of being a nomadic hunter-gather people, they established a village as a permanent settlement, which begot food surpluses, creating diverse social structures, including a compartmentalized class system and various types of work unrelated to farming. Sumerians also produced the first codes of law and the first written literature in the form of pieces of writing, such as the Sumerian proverbs as wittingly inserted in the beginning of every chapter of this book. For instance, on the subject of married life one Sumerian man uttered thus: “For his pleasure he got married. On his thinking it over, he got divorced.”Which also bespeaks a permission of divorce in Sumerian society. Sumerians treasured monogamous marriage in which a man gave gifts to the bride and her family upon agreement to a marriage contract. Besides, women were not confined in domestic restraints; they could work as scribes, weavers, and proprietress of businesses.

There were four strata of social class in Sumerian society as follows:

  • Nobles: Senior priests and warriors and their families who owned the most of the land. The nobles distinguished themselves by resplendent clothing made of fine fabrics and impressive jewelry with their shaved heads. They all lived in temples and palaces in the center of the cities where the irrigation systems and commercial centers were located.
  • Commoners: Traders, artisans, merchants, scribes, and craftsmen. In fact, scribes were held in high esteem because of their dual role as accountants. Commoners also owned a small portion of land.
  • Clients: Senior administrators and temple personnel working for nobles who lived in small houses in highly congested streets close to the city walls or outside cities on farms.
  • Slaves: Manual laborers who were prisoners of war or sold into slavery due to the inability to pay the debts. Also, fathers of free people could sell their children into slavery to raise the funds. (So Thomas Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge in which a man sold his wife and daughter in a public market had its legal foundation in the Sumerian practice.) However, slaves could merry free people and purchase manumission themselves.

The emergence of the above-referenced class system indicates that the Sumerian economic infrastructure was constituted by a variety of business sectors developed in the cities with food surpluses, highly advanced irrigation systems to transport water from the rivers to the farms, and solid military prowess endowed by professional solders and inventions of steel chariots used at war for the first time in history.

In conclusion, the Sumerian contributions to our modern civilization as a collective enterprise are deeply entrenched in many aspects of our life, whether or not we know or even care, because well, let’s face it, history is written by a winner, a victor, a survivor who lives to tell beyond the boundaries of time and space. In this regard, the Sumerians might not be ostentatious de riguer per se victors because just like their mysterious origin, their demise as a sovereign entity with their direct descendants to whom their cultural artifacts and legacies stunned the proliferation of its heritage. Nonetheless, the Sumerian civilization bestrides one of the world’s most significant ancient civilizations that left indelible marks on our cumulative cultural progress as elliptically put by the following Sumerian proverb: “What comes out from the heart of the tree is known by the heart of the tree.” You see, the Sumerians were indeed brilliant. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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The Brilliant Legacy of the Mycenaeans: Ancient Greece’s First Advanced Civilization

The Mycenaeans: The History and Culture of Ancient Greece's First Advanced CivilizationThe Mycenaeans: The History and Culture of Ancient Greece’s First Advanced Civilization by Charles River Editors

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before Homer wrote about the fearless warriors and extraordinary heroes enshrined in the temples of the Olympians in Iliad and The Odysseys, there were a people of invincible spirits and adventurism on a par with those of the characters – The Mycenaean, the torch-bearers of a great Aegean civilization in the Pre-Classical Greece existing from 2000 to 1200 BC, whose bravery and enterprising minds inspired Homer to pay tribute to them as immortalized in the two great Classical epics in the history of western civilization. Accordingly, The Mycenaeans: The History and Culture of Ancient Greece’s First Civilization by Charles River Editors takes us to look back on the Mycenaean culture in the Pre-Classical era when these ancient ethnic Greeks ruled the Aegean Sea as the maritime power and left their indelible marks on the posterity of the Classical Greek culture.

The Mycenaeans, the first Greeks, were never unified under a central state and were a collection of several kingdoms. Influenced by the earlier Minoan civilization (2000-1450 BC) at Knossos, Crete, the Mycenaean adapted the Minoan art and religious practices and developed them to their highest expectation of militaristic and cultural ideology. For example, the Mycenaeans developed Linear B Script, which was the writing system comprising hieroglyphics, used between 1450 and 1100 BC especially in Knossos and Pylos, the corporate headquarters of the Late Bronze Mycenae. The letters were mostly written in clay tablets largely concerned with documenting economic transactions of the palace administration and various business transactions. In fact, the Linear B Script, preserved as the oldest Greek writing system, indicates that the Mycenaeans were the linguistic and ethnic ancestors of the Classical Greeks.

In addition to transcribing economic activities Linear B Script also lets us glimpse into the belief system of the Mycenaeans with the names of the deities they worshiped, such as the head of the Pantheon and Poseidon, the god o f the seas whom the Mycenaeans paid special due respect for their being sea-faring people. The Mycenaean reverence for Poseidon is worth noting because it betokens the importance of the Mycenaean as the maritime power of the Aegean Sea as well as the most of the Mediterranean Sea. They eclipsed the Minoans and their Aegean neighbors in terms of open sea trade by establishing trade routes with the islands of Sardinia and Sicily as well as the Libyan coastline and importing more goods than exporting, such as grain from Egypt and metal from Cyprus and Anatolia to make weapons.

With respect to artistic and cultural historiography of the Mycenaeans, the art of burial practices entailed the Minoan influence assimilated into the Mycenaean of their own accord, which was akin to the fashion of Hellenism, the spread of the Greek culture through enculturation by Alexander the Great centuries later. Likewise, after then conquest of Crete, the Mycenaeans continued to employ many of the Minoan artistic traditions one of which was burial practices and their beliefs in afterlife as expressed in the Hagia Triada Sarcophagus on the island of Crete. Made in a Minoan style under the rule of Mycenaeans, it depicts scenes of funereal game held in honor of a fallen warriors and dead kings, consisting of the following athletic events as part of the ritual:

  • Chariot Race – Popularized by the Hittite and the Egyptian as a symbol of power and prestige; powered by 2 to 4 horses carrying a team of 2 to 3 men. The Hittite had 3 men – a driver, a shield bearer, and a warrior- while the Egyptian simply had 2 men – a driver and a shield bearer. The Mycenaeans would most likely to have either of the styles, though not manifested.
  • Armed Combat – conflated with the Hittite sport
  • Boxing – popularized by the Minoan and developed by the Mycenaean

In fact, the actuality of the aforesaid athletic sport events is alluded in Homer’s Iliad, suggesting a Bronze Age tradition of funerary games in Greece with vivid descriptions of the games to honor the slain Greek warrior named Patroclus, which were all coordinated by Achilles. However, contrary to the nude events of the Classical Greece Olympics, which were the offspring of the Mycenaean funereal games, the competitors in the funereal sport events wore loincloths called “zoma.”

The demise of the Mycenaean Kingdom resulted from several factors one by one in a period of times, including the invasion of the Sea Peoples and the emerging of the Dorian in the north, all of which represented the end of the Mycenaean Age, coinciding with the collapse of the Bronze Age in the ancient Near East, where the Mycenaeans played an important role as a formidable trade partner with the Egyptian. Notwithstanding the fall of the Mycenaeans as the major sea power in the ancient Bronze Age, the brilliant legacy of the Mycenaean culture still thrives in; (1) the form of Linear B Script, the oldest writing system of the Greek language before the adoption of the Phoenician alphabet system many centuries later; (2) the belief system in which Zeus and Poseidon were first recorded in the writing tablets and revered with due respect; and (3) the initiation of  the sparks of the organized athletic events developed into the Olympic Games in posterity. It is this ingenuity imbued with the spirit of adventure and the policy of engagement in adopting cultural traditions of other people that exemplified themselves among other Pre-Classical peoples, which is something we in the modern time should adopt as well, so that our posterity can benefit from what their ancestors learned and experienced, for it also becomes our legacy of heritage and culture to pass it down from generation to generation.

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