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

‘Owl at Home’, by Arnold Lobel – book review

Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


We all have natural octaves for narratives of ourselves to speak in various notes and tempos. But Arnold Lobel’s is a fugue of loneliness, disappointment, sadness, and longing vested in the good-heartedness and geniality. ‘Owl at Home’ is Lobel’s ballad of melancholic warmth that sings his heart’s song.

This little book tells of an owl who lives alone in the treehouse. The owl has the comforts of life, from a comfy sofa to a pillowy bed and a beautiful teapot set, but not a life companion to speak. So the owl invites winter with a wide-open door, even if the wind sweeps over the house’s warmth rudely. But that’s not it. He makes tea from his tears of sad thoughts by pouring them into a jar. Hence his tea is named ‘tear-water tea.’ Oh, and yes, the lonely owl wants to befriend a moon that he regards too beautiful and lofty to be acquainted with. The melancholy ballad has such a simple loveliness that it touches the reader’s heart and transforms pathos into sympathy.

The book’s genre is officially and publicly children’s literature, but that doesn’t mean that readers aged beyond 18 years can’t. While reading the book, I kept associating the owl, the likable solitary owl, with the author and illustrator Lobel, whose life was also ended in a lonely man’s theme. Bullies tattered Lobel’s childhood at schools due to his weak disposition and shyness, which made him estranged from the crowd of life, being utterly unattached and felt unwanted and unfit for happiness. Likewise, the goodhearted but quixotic owl is Lobel himself at his saddest, loneliest, and paradoxically best because the truth about him lays bare through the narratives. The author’s beautiful illustrations delineate the shape of his heart that is warm and generous and move a feeling of pity for the dreadful solitude to a sense of love with a sound of mirth.





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Posted in Miscellany

The Rambler on the interview

In a post-industrial age, when the mingling of classes in streets is a norm, and social mobility is a reality in a society, the stories about royal families become reality period dramas that seem to give them a status that fuses the capriciousness of greek gods with the glamour of Hollywood celebrity.

When I saw twitter’s promotion of Oprah Winfrey’s Harry and Meghan interview, I thought no wonder they were sought-after media darlings, living Romeo and Juliet, and something to talk about when things looked bleak and boring. And I honestly feel no qualms about them being a subject of gossip or the tabloid because they live in public eyes, albeit they most clamor for the privacy of their lives. Otherwise, what is the absolute need to broadcast their stories on a central television station at prime time? (No YouTube, please, in respect of their royalty.) Oprah Winfrey, who now seems to have replaced Barbara Walters’ seat, looks fit to the royal couple pleading for upscaled sympathy from the American public unfamiliar with the constitutional monarchy and possibly slightly partial to the name and images of monarchy without knowing them well.

To put the wedding story of Prince Harry and Actress Meghan Markle on a par with Cinderella story is to ignore the fact she is from a privileged class in the States with expensive private education and parental support. Despite Princess Diana’s aristocratic family background, people sympathized with the lonely Diana because of her doe-eyed, ever muliebral innocent beauty that looked impossible for debauchery. By the same virtue of beauty fused with sensualness of exotic charm, the American actress/model Meghan charmed Prince Harry, who would even venture to Hesperides’ garden to bring her a golden apple should she request. And now Harry lives in the Golden State, the land of his Helen, with a face launching waves of media coverages.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that beauty tames the savageness of brutes and allays the hardened souls of criminals. Oscar Wilde added that a beautiful woman is the subject of conversations wherever she goes. The lovely Meghan beaming with sparkling amethyst eyes adorned with apricot cheeks reminded me of a modern-day Helen of Troy. After all, Helen’s prodigal beauty saved her from her first the ireful sword of her first and lawful husband Menelaus, the king of Sparta to whom she betrayed the slain Paris’s brother Deiphobus, her third husband. Despite vehement feminist catchphrases brandishing anti-sexism, beauty is still a woman’s privilege to achieve social escalation in work and an undefeatable power to purchase indemnity for all faults and foibles.

In addition to the claimed blackness of Meghan’s heritage, the media seems to shoehorn it to fit her estrangement feeling in the procrustean bed to a histrionic degree because one cursory glance at her wouldn’t strike her as a black woman at all. I honestly think that if a woman is beautiful, then where she comes from does not matter. In fact, I feel something is not quite right when someone in her position keeps playing a race card as a chance gambit to muster her retinue against the criticism raised by her unwilling participation in royal attendances and cavalier attitude towards learning the royal manners, which appear antithetical to her carefree American spirit hard to domesticate.

Call it an acrid narrative of a woman who juggles the daily affairs of life with what she has. Or you may say it is the usual cynical delusion of reference to those who got it all out of passionate envy burned in a fury. Yet, the interview appears to be nothing but their formal excuse for their present life, public proclamation of their still regal sovereignty warning people not to speak ill of them, which is probably directed to the ordinary whom they regard as meddlesome. Well, then let them be whoever they want to be. Playing Romeo and Juliet’s roles in a public theater in long-run shows will only lose favor with the audience, especially with Romeo now being well-stuffed, looking like a rich American, and Juliet still looking fabulous like a luxurious Beverly Hills demimonde.  

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.