Posted in book review

John Dee, Queen Elizabeth’s Gandalf who designed 007 – book review

John Dee: The Life and Legacy of the English Occultist, Alchemist, and Philosopher Who Became Queen Elizabeth I’s Spiritual Advisor by Charles River Editors

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Ben Jonson’s alchemist Subtle in his famous Elizabethan play ‘The Alchemist’ is a knave quack intent upon doing a lucrative occult business by luring the gullible, rich or poor, learned or general. But John Dee, Queen Elizabeth I’s English-Welsh astrologer, was anything but. He was a highly educated man graduating from Cambridge University with a penchant for esoteric knowledge beyond the realm of the physical world, and brilliant engineering feat contributed to his epithet as the queen’s occultist to the eyes of those who regarded him as something of Rasputin in the queen’s retinue. To me, Dee was a curious figure of science and magic, fact and mystery dissolving into one another.

From the cradle to the grave, John Dee’s life appears to be starlit with mystical numbers and stars that govern his destiny to pursue the knowledge of the beyond. Born in the household of a well-to-do textile merchant on July 13th, 1527, Dee’s fate was already revealed in the combination of the lucky number 7 and the ominous 13. He was endowed with intellect and heart, which is not typical for an astute scholar with a high education degree. Also, an ingenious engineer in stage productions of plays, Dee created the modern-day equivalent of special effects employing a man-powered crane and other apparatuses used as a counterweight fly system. He was fascinated with the science behind mathematics and used it to know astrology and celestial navigation in understanding human lives. He chose the coronation date for Elizabeth when Jupiter juxtaposed alone with Venus, opposing Saturn, and conjecturing Mars. The astrological interpretation betrays the virgin queen’s reign with the beauty of the goddesses and the power of the god of gods. Methinks, Dee’s interpretation must have attributed to the queen’s famous Tilbury Address in which she described herself as possessing “the body of a weak, feeble woman but the heart and stomach of a king.” Furthermore, the famous secret code of “007” was an invention of Dee used between Dee and the queen meaning “For your eyes only” as in “00” as a symbol of eyes and “7” Dee’s favorite lucky number.

Dee had a bona fide intention to use his knowledge to benefit people of all classes. During his post as royal astrologer under Queen Mary’s reign, Dee proposed to the queen that she establish a national library accessible to all for the universal education of the minds. This revolutionary idea was unprecedented and rejected. Dee was a man of books and used his learning from reading for the welfare of England. He propelled England into the Age of Exploration. He legitimized the British expansion of territories, including America, to which, according to Dee’s certification, a Welsh prince sailed in 1170, which was three centuries before Columbus’ voyage. Patriotic stargazer elucidated further that it was Grate Britain’s destiny to gain all of the territories supposedly appropriated by King Arthur by coining the term “The British Empire.”

After the death of his beloved Queen Elizabeth, Dee dwindled in his career and fell into obscurity, not least because he lost favor with the successor King James I, the scourge of god against witchcraft and magic as deviltry. We don’t know whether he was secretly in league with the devil in his once magnificent personal library. The opinions on John Dee are still debatable, if not controversial. Some might say he was a would-be Merlin or Gandalf. Some might call him a Rasputin who tricked the virgin queen into believing superstitions with his mephistophelean pact for the souls to populate the circles of hell. I want to say Dee was akin to Atlas, one of the Titans who was also fascinated with astrology and astronomy and generous with munificent generosity in the form of divine fire to mortals, for which he was condemned to bear the weight of the celestial globe.



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Posted in book review, Miscellany

The young heart at flame

Who would have thought of it? The evening was alight with pillars of fire, and Washington was burning. The heart of the young republic streets was filled with a cacophony of screams, footsteps, and hollers as the king’s soldiers from the old country unfurled the British flag over the capital city. It was August 24th, 1814, thirty-eight years after the U.S. become a sovereign independent country from Great Britain.

The British invasion of Washington resulted from a combination of a longing to bring back its former colony and vengeance upon the former colony’s brazen-faced act of independence. The U.S. invaded the British territory of Canada in 1812, attacking the city of York, modern-day Toronto as well as Port Dover, which saw American troops destroy a large number of food supplies. However, thanks to the Canadian militia and the Native American forces, the U.S. attempt to take over British-ruled Canada flopped and only fueled the British fury for the imperious behaviors of the young country. To destabilize American power from within, the British supported the Native Americans, who continued to resist the U.S.’s westward expansion and impressed American merchant seamen to become crew on British ships, alluring them with better pay and higher career prospects. Moreover, the British could devote their time to the American affair when the war against France ended triumphantly, exiling the French leader Napoleon to St. Alba in 1814. So, it was ripe time for the British to march into the streets of the American capital city during the presidency of James Madison.

However, the British army was not altogether barbaric in ransacking civilian houses and burning historical and cultural artifacts like the Taliban. For example, the Taliban destroyed the ancient Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in 2001 that were incredible historical artifacts showing a spectacular combination of Indus and Hellenistic civilizations. The British didn’t harm the U.S. Patent Office, whose then-superintendent Dr. William Ornton’s plea for preserving the artifacts of humanity chimed the bell of the universal mind. They also didn’t set ablaze on civilian houses or buildings, except for the Capitol Building and the U.S. Treasury building. However, they did capture many of the valuable pictures and works of art, including the paintings of George III and Queen Charlotte from the President’s House (modern-day White House), later transported to Bermuda. How duplicitous it was to find the portraitures of the royalty from which Americans bled to gain independence owned by the American President’s House!

That might have become a great war between the two countries ended in the British retreat, thanks to the American blessing of untamed natural climate. An unexpected tornado pushed the British back to their ships and carried them back to their motherland, the Queen’s land. Come to think of it, America has been blessed with luck and timing, not to mention everlasting youth. Yet, this relatively unknown part of American history I have recently learned from a history magazine confirms that history is a series of vengeance on generations upon generations, as Herodotus observed. In that regard, the British burning of Washington reminds me of Julius Caesar’s burning of the library of Alexandria, the Greeks’ burning of Troy, and Nazi Germany’s burning of Paris. American is certainly no exception to the natural cycle of human history, invading and invaded, continuous in cycle and epicycle.

Posted in book review, Miscellany

Who discovered America?

 

The question of “Who discovered America?” lends itself to enlightening trivia pastime, spawning a series of plausible answers. Leif Eriksson and Christopher Columbus contend the discoverer’s title, possibly followed by Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake, except one John Cabot whose name is lost with his ship somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean just as his mysterious disappearance during the final voyage. 

Giovanni Caboto, aka John Cabot, was a 15th-century Venetian maritime merchant, emigrating with his family to Tudor England in search of substantial royal sponsorship for his ambitious Far East expeditions. The age of expedition was imbued with the spirit of enterprise that propelled colonialism. England was no exception to the European competition. Spain and Portugal were the contenders for uncharted lands and undreamed waterways discovered by Christopher Columbus, Casco de Gamma, and Fernando Magellan. Cabot promised Henry VII that he would find the ways to the Shangri-La in honor of the land to the king with portions of profit for the homage. The king granted his royal patronage on the expedition in the hope of establishing a British mercantile empire around the world. After two misfortunate voyages, Cabot finally made it to what is now known as America in 1497 and called it “New Found Land.”



However, unlike his contemporary peers whose deaths are recorded either orally or textually, Cabot’s end as an explorer is undeservingly clandestine and amorphous. It is said that Cabot was a victim of mutiny among the seamen on his ship or that he settled in the New Found Land and died there. What is more confounding than the mystery of Cabot’s whereabout is the seemingly less recognizance of his achievement than that of the rival explorers of his time and posterity. Cabot was the first explorer who paved the transatlantic waterways between America and Europe, principally the British Isles, for the progeny.



Indeed, Columbus found the West Indies and the American continent by happenstance. Still, Cabot proved that rapid Atlantic travel was possible by sailing the west through the ocean, more substantially practical and influential than America’s ideologically symbolic discovery by Eriksson and Columbus. Would Cabot’s discovery of America under Henry VII’s banner be an issue for the recognizance of his achievement for independent minds of Americans liberated from the English sovereignty? Or, to put more blatantly, would the English royal sponsorship of Italian native Cabot’s exploration mar the spirit of American liberty? If England were still a Catholic country, would Cabot’s achievement have been of lesser brilliancy than those of his contemporary explorers? The questions of history require answers, but often they remain unheard and trail off in the wind of zeitgeist.

Posted in book review, 미분류, Film Review, Miscellany

Not impossible

It is supposed to be about being a woman that binds all women regardless of race and ethnicity across a great divide of time. Forget all others and let us focus on the parallel circumstances and kindred experiences as women. But alas, that seems only a tale told by a romantic fool such as I am. If you think this is hyperbole, then I suggest you read the tweets and comments on the recent news that a black actress plays the role of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry the Eighth and the mother of Elizabeth the First, in the upcoming British periodical drama, which went viral among the learned and the general.  In addition to the vehemently acrid narratives on the racial authenticity of Anne Boleyn – especially from fellow women-, the juxtaposition of the two women’s images, the actress Jodie Turner-Smith and the queen Anne Boleyn itself, belies the popular sentiment as though to mock the actress’s appearance in the fashion of the Tudor period by making parallels with the classical portraiture of the Anne of 1000 days.  It has produced vociferous tweets full of fury from people who regard the role as audacious cultural appropriation faithful to the PC ethos of the time. 

Actress Turner-Smith’s playing the Tudor woman Anne Boleyn is indeed an innovational idea of breaking the typecasting based on the physical distinction for the roles thinkable and conventionally conceivable for the specific attributable characteristics of certain characters. Thus, non-whites playing the roles conceived for whites are seen as usurping the equilibrium of cultural heritage, upending the very foundation of national identity translated into racial identification, a sentiment prevalent even among the professed liberals anti-everything related to Trump, Republicans, and racism. The rejection of the race crossover representation on screen is supposedly due to the difficulty of following the story’s fluid narrative, unable to be absorbed in the story, not least because performers’ distinctive physical attributes mar the harmony of racial fluidity. But do we really?

I have watched a few good dramas (British) in which the races of performers do not pin down them to the racially charged roles. To illustrate, in Benedict Cumberbatch’s Frankenstein, the wife of Victor Frankenstein was played by a black actress. Besides, his father, M. Frankenstein, is a black actor, a fine ensemble of excellent thespians whose energetic performance brought Mary Shelly’s original Gothic story to a theatrical feast to the eyes and the mind. While watching the drama, I was not distracted by the black performers’ appearances being the father and Genevan Victor Frankenstein’s wife. Instead, the powerfully emotional and assiduously methodological performances resurrected the textual characters to real humans, full of pathos with vigor and wonder. Also, British Asian actress Gemma Chan, who played the role of Elizabeth Hardwick in ‘Mary Queen of Scot’s,’ is known for her versatile roles transcending her racial background. Her recent performance as a cyborg with a touch of humanity named Anita in ‘Humans’ is as naturally harmonious as streams of a river flowing into a great ocean, not highlighting her physical differences.

L-R Laura (Katherine Parkinson), and Mia (Gemma Chan) from ‘Humans’

So why the fuss full of sound and fury of the people who cannot accept the black queen in the Tudor drama when they are boastful of the most advanced mind since the age of Enlightenment? In the wake of the global Black Lives Matter movements, people have become afraid of the wind of changes as a frightful tsunami to subvert social foundations, upending the social orders adverse to their belief systems. Although I don’t eschew their concerns for the wind of changes as I am also conservative, not conventional in belief, the current vehemently acrid opinions about the black woman becoming Anne Boleyn are tokens of latent racialized hostility surfaced by the deluged dissents pouring forth from the socially suppressed sentiments. Indeed, you can’t ignore the differences between the two Anne Boleyns. Still, there are more commonalities than the images seen through your optical sensory input: that they are both women of elegance and confidence who are not afraid of expressing what they can. The actress shows she can pull off the character with what she has, and the queen her the courage to confront the criticism for being the cause of subsequent religious turmoil that changed the face of Christendom in spades. Let not prejudice darken entertainment. 

Posted in book review, Miscellany

My letter to the editor got published – again!

Reading the history of ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Western Civilization, in general, gives me mental refreshment. It connects me to the people who lived before me, crossing over the boundaries of time and territories. So, it was a pleasant present after a day’s work when Mom handed over to me a Christmas issue of the BBC History Revealed magazine that had arrived at home. To my delight, I saw in the magazine my letter to the editor about my questions on the hypothetical consequence of the successful gunpowder plot, which is best known for the Guy Fawkes Day in the U.K. The following is the transcription of my published letter, which is titled “Food for Thought.” In fact, this is the 6th time that the magazine has published my letters! Wow!

“The interesting scenario about what might have happened had the gunpowder plot been successful in England in 1605 made me think of its hypothetical impacts on the birth of the United States of America and its culture.

The conjecture that the restoration of Catholicity in England would have resulted in the earlier flux of protestant immigration to the States was particularly intriguing and eye-opening in a religious and cultural context.

It also led me to wonder about the following questions: what would Catholic England’s policy have been toward its Spanish ally in the expedition of the New World, principally, including America? Could the New World have been the only choice of the exodus of the English protestants? Could Spanish have become the official language of the States?”