Posted in book review

‘The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes’, by Raoul McLaughlin – review

The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes: The Ancient World Economy & the Empires of Parthia, Central Asia & Han China by Raoul McLaughlin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


We are easily apt to presume that what we can do was an impossibility for those of different eras and places. Yet, what is happening now has happened before, although in various modes of Operandi. Global trade was also part of the ancient world’s economy that affected civilization’s fortune just as it is today in our time. This book shows the reader how ancient commerce happened thousands of years ago across a great distance of continents from the Far East to the West to propagate the prospects and prosperity of Europe and Asia’s far-flung regimes via silk routes through Central Asia.

The book is a fine organization of roads, resources, and governments involved in the ancient business world that surprise the modern reader that without airplanes, cars, and computers even, our forefathers of humankind found ways to travel a great distance for profits with flares for adventure. First, the term “Silk Roads” became famous by the 19th Century German geographer/explorer Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen, who surveyed the land routes crossing Central Asia from Afghanistan to China as used in the ancient Chinese and Roman texts. His ambitious plan was to construct a railway line across Central Asia that would have linked the German economy to Chinese markets. In ancient times, the Romans imported Chinese silk that came to Roman Syria from Iranian caravan routes crossing the Parthian Empire from Uzbekistan to Mesopotamia. The Romans’ Eastern business also included Indian valuables via the Persian Gulf that reached Parthian markets in Babylonia. An ancient text reveals that one Indian sailor from the wreckage of a trade ship from India around the Red Sea rescued by a Greek patrol ship from the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt around the Arabian Peninsula told the Greeks how to sail from India via season Monsoon winds.

The Romans had already known about India but not the Far East until 1 B.C., when silk began to reach the Mediterranean Sea through the Parthian Empire ruling in ancient Iran via caravan routes, aka the silk roads. It appears that commerce contacts and cultural interactions indeed existed. Modern archeologists discovered the graves of slave workers of textile production during the first century A.D. at Vagnari in southern Italy; one of them had a DNA of Far Eastern ancestry inherited from his mother. From Julius Caesar to Caligula, silk both ornamental and devotional in the panoply of magnificent Roman authority. The Romans made ceremonial silk curtains dyed in royal Tyrian purple as awnings in public ceremonies to protect spectators’ eyes from the fiery Mediterranean Sun’s glare. Silk also made beautiful garments and garlands presented to classical gods’ images and offered to the protective household deities. The reader would be pretty surprised to learn that the end of Cleopatra VIII and her paramour Mark Anthony was a purple augury of lucrative Roman trade from the eastern world. The accumulated Roman economy from Ptolemaic Egypt’s annexation and control over the eastern legions made the distribution of the Roman citizens’ funds possible. The empire gained direct sovereignty over the Red Sea shipping lanes into the Indian Ocean.

Reading this book confirmed my conviction that people would find the way to do what they needed. However, the younger generations of our time often make the anachronistic mistake of judging the previous generations as culturally retrogressed and hemmed in insular thoughts. It is only a different way of doing business, however slow or primitive it may seem. The ancient commerce contacts show that a country cannot stand alone and survive alone in the world if it refuses to measure the truth with the desire based on ethnocentrism growing into xenophobia. Human cultural progress is a collective enterprise. We live not in isolated islands but a global village.



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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

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Search for Truth

Sometimes the truth is so strange and mad that you wish yourself dreaming when you awake. That is what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle must have realized when he got a letter from one George Edalgi. The story read springing from Doyle’s Holmesian stories. Britain’s beloved author, partly curious and mostly indignant at the case’s stupendousness, felt responsible for searching the truth as the creator of his alter ego, Sherlock Holmes. So Doyle met the client Edalgi face to face in a hotel in January 1907. 



George Edalgi, the eldest son of Parsi-English vicar in the small mining village called Great Wyrley in England and former solicitor, served seven years of penitentiary servitude for the Great Wyrley killings of 1903 he claimed innocent. Edalgi’s case was an ipso facto example of miscarriage of justice on indubitably evident grounds of racially imbued personal vendettas against him and his family for who they were. The Edalgi family, despite Charlotte, the mother, and wife, being white, were regarded as heathen Indians encroaching upon the comfortable life of the English, or more precisely, the white privileges, which was the bastion of the eyes of the most villagers. Since the beginning of Reverend Edalgi’s vicarage, the family had been constant targets for racial slurs and hostility that perpetuated the peaceful family life. Even after George became a lawyer, the villagers continued to disrespect his presence, culminating in the notorious Great Wyrley killings of 1903 in which livestock, including horses and cows, were atrociously mutilated and left dead in horrible agony. As Wyrley was a closely-knit village of miners, the easy target for the blame goes for the Edalgis, especially for their eldest child George. He was a loner with distinctively ethnic physical features roving around alone in rumination on evenings. Any white person doing the same ritual would seem philosophical, sentimental, or poetic even, but it did not apply to George’s leisurely ceremony.


Upon consulting George, who must have thought Doyle as the only person on the British Isles to listen to his truth, Sherlock Holmes’s writer has the hunch that the client could not possibly have committed such an abdominal crime for the following reasons. The trappings are so fitting to a conspiracy that they stink:

  1. George is noticeably near-sighted when reading. The animals’ mutilations indicate only good eyesight can perform such surgically precise cuts.
  2. The ethnic backgrounds of George and the cultural environment of the village are circumstantial evidence that the case is racially motivated from the beginning. If not, then the real culprit used George’s vulnerability to camouflage his crime.
  3. The police framed George for the killings, knowing the real culprit because of racialism led by the local aristocratic police chief GA Anson.

Doyle’s real motivation for campaigning for George’s amnesty is curious speculation. Yet, it was the darkest night of the soul when Doyle answered the call for justice. He lost his wife Louise to tuberculosis while he was in love with Jean Leckie. Doyle took Louise’s death as a pang of his consciousness for seeing another woman at the time of her illness and regarded the letter from George as redemption of his soul to redirect the ship adrift after maelstrom. Whatever it might have been, Doyle was one of the most ardent campaigners for George’s pardoning to reinstate his legal career and restore his tainted honor. The fruition bears two tastes of the victory: the case led to the establishment of the Court of Criminal Appeal in 1907, and George was allowed to practice law again, which he did in London. However, the official government’s compensation for George’s time from the malice of injustice yielded nothing. Soon the case and the name George Edalgi became a thing of the past unless Arthur Conan Doyle chimes the bell with the forgotten.

This story I read from a British history magazine makes me think of what an author should be. An author sees the corrupt humanity and ills that cause it, stands furious with the honest minds, and speaks to the corrupt minds amid the chaotic order of nature that goes against truths. Charlotte Bronte posited that an Author has a faithful allegiance to truth and nature. Bestselling or obscure, an Author represents humanity who can see what others oversee or trivialize in preference to magnitude in power and splendor in fame. In that light, Conan Doyle deserves special homage for his search for truth. That is why he is still a great author in posterity. 

Posted in Film Review

‘The Entity (1982)’ – film essay


“The Entity (1982)” is an American film based on the real-life event of Dorothy Bither, who was habitually raped by evil spirits that followed her everywhere. In the movie, Dorothy is Carla Moran, a young, intelligent single mother of three whose life becomes a Circle of Hell incarnate on earth in which she becomes a sexual slave of the unseen unclean spirits. Despite the physical signs of attacks, her well-meaning but over-zealous psychiatrist Dr. Phill Sneiderman believes that her unhappy childhood and different anfractuous life experience generate the mind’s play. He then forces his belief into her with a superior sense of academic and professional pride, even if her children have witnessed supernatural powers are attacking their mother. Carla catches at straws in the form of parapsychology to set herself free from the demonic forces, even if the help is not entirely altruistic and may turn on a full circle of violation of her body, her heart, and her spirit.


The film agrees to the truth on the supernatural essence of rape by portraying Carla as a woman of diligence, intelligence, and heart who goes to a secretarial school at night for a better future. Her love and affection for children are filled with kisses and smiles, even to her head-strong adolescent son. Her childhood memories and paths she treaded upon thus far might have been labyrinthine, but just because you have past wounds doesn’t mean you are stigmatized for the malady of the heart forever. Dr. Sneiderman’s attitude toward his patient Carla is reminiscent of the late Victorian and early 20th-century institutionalization of women with checkered lives, the victims of violence, into crudely primitive asylums where any sane person was sure to lose a reason before long. However, Carla rejects her telltale testimony to the supernatural terror to be nothing but a tale told by a lunatic woman, full of sound and fury that means nothing.


‘The Entity’ is a classic movie of supernatural phenomena in the ordinary surrounding of Los Angeles, CA. What makes this film classic in its pure literary sense is the absence of gory scenes accompanied by shrill screams of overtly acted characters who know what will happen to them. Nudity is present in the film not as gratuitous scenes of repertories of box-office horror movies but as realistic segments of what and how it happened all. I initially avoided watching this film by its thematic subject of rape and its naturally subsequent psychological narrative analysis as someone craving for a true supernatural story without frequent staccatos of blood splashes and big sharp tooth. It was a low hope for high heaven when the film was impressively indelible in my mind after I watched it last Saturday. If you prefer watching 70s and early 80s supernatural films over slash movies after the golden periods of the genre, ‘The Entity’ will entertain your sentiment and satisfy reason. And remember this: “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Don’t forget that.

Posted in book review, Miscellany

Around the World in 72 Days

The masts were solemnly lowered as the anchor was triumphantly docked in at a Hoboken harbor in New Jersey. Then there appeared a young woman with eyes of brilliance that glowed with joy and alacrity of departure from her race against the time. One hundred thirty-one years ago today was when one steely journalist named Nellie Bly broke the boundary of imagination and reality by completing her round-the-world race in 72 days at New Jersey. Bly’s phenomenal record was indeed transcendent of the realm of fictitious reality where Phileas Fogg, Jules Verne’s creation of gentleman adventurer, finished his globe-trotting in 80 days. The world record was not only a sensational media headline in her time but also a glowing manifestation of grit, resilience, and the power of the mind that Bly demonstrated on herself as a woman.

Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in 1864 in a small Pennsylvania mill town, Nellie Bly was her catchy nom de plume for the literary world, where she became successful. She was something of a frontier pioneer woman in investigative journalism and adventuring into unpathed areas of news reporting of the Dickensian world of crime and health bureaucracy, notably of the asylum at Blackwell’s Island in New York where she infiltrated as an undercover. However, a panoply of her achievements backfired when her pent-up yearning for holidays on a different shore agreed to a spectacular proposal by Joseph Pulitzer, the New York World owner, of the ingenious race-round-the world against the time. Bly’s decision to embark on the one-of-kind adventure was an apropos admixture of personal yearning to get away from the weight of reality and the publisher’s entrepreneurial aim to proliferate circulations.

So there off, she embarked on the race with a trunk containing hygiene necessities, a few wardrobes, and some books to read, but without any weapon, not least because of her belief: “If you smile at the world, the world will smile at you.” She sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from New York, through Europe, the Arabian Sea, and the Far East, and then back across the Pacific to return to the homeland. During the voyage from Hong Kong to Japan, Bly heard that another contender emerged from the oceans’ edges: twenty-eight years old Elizabeth Bisland, the literary editor of Cosmopolitan, a rival publication of The New York World. Always achieving, always forwarding, Bly hastened to complete her race guarded by the goddess of fortune and blessed by Jules Verne, whom she met during the race in Europe and was able to trounce her rival journalist arriving five days earlier and Philias Fogg eight days.

Bly was a supreme one of a kind, not most because she was a woman reporter who was some rarity. Instead, she was a person of indomitable determination, commendable work ethic, and insatiable curiosity, which were coveted attributes even to men of high aspiration. Bly demonstrated the Nietzschean will to power in her achievement by the epiphany of the noble soul to create capabilities to make the idea into an incredible and remarkable reality in the chapter of humankind’s history. Herodotus would have loved to record it.