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Celts Vs. Romans?

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Asterix (L) and Obelix (R)

In The Adventures of Asterix, a popular Franco-Belgian comic strip whose protagonists Asterix and his friend Obelix in a village of Gauls during the Roman occupation in 50 BC outwitted their Roman colonialists with Druidic magic potion and spontaneous ingenuity laced with Celtic sense of humor and and mysticism, the Gauls were constantly at war with the Romans in the reign of Julian Caesar, who was bent on subjugating the culture of the colonials, let alone the recalcitrant Celtic spirit, to that of the empire. But it wasn’t always like that, pace popular conception of the Roman ruling of the Gauls and the Britons as widely portrayed in popular culture. The relationship between the Romans and the Celts was quite peaceful and even surprisingly symbiotically beneficial – that is, at least prior to the emergence of Caesar and Claudius.

The Romans and the Celts were in Apollonian co-existence bound by flourishing trade and cultural exchange between the two peoples. There was a long period of peaceful trading between the Mediterranean Romans and the Celts of Gaul inhibiting modern-day France with exports and imports particular to each of the regions. To illustrate, the Gauls were known for their penchant for diluted Mediterranean wine that was transported by boat on the sea and wagon in land from the Peninsular. The Romans received in return Celtic slaves who never seemed to be short of a supply because there was a surplus of slaves in Gaul where frequent raiding among the tribes was the sine qua non of such abundance of exploited manpower to be used to tend the Roman vineyards and other aristocratic estates. Gaulish chieftains offloaded excessive number of newly acquired slaves by trading them off for proverbial Roman wine to distribute it to his followers as an ostentatious display of their wealth and prowess in their tribes. In fact, the Gauls’ love of the Roman wine was so undeniably famous that among the Romans the stereotypical image of the Gauls as drunkards slurping wine through their long, drooping mustaches was widely circulated in the empire.

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Asterix and Obelix in the Roman Army

Olive oil, tableware, jewelry, and other luxuriant goods were among the popular Roman exports, however expensively they were sold by canny Roman traders, who then bought metals, cured hams, beer, and hunting dogs from the Celts at low prices. Notwithstanding such discontentment in terms of fair trade, the prosperous bartering of the goods between the colonials and the colonialists brought the grist to the mill of effective management of the colonies in the context of regarding economic and political stability that could/would have been otherwise in turmoil as a result of despotic constraints on the preexisting native social and political structures characteristic of colonialism. This favorable symbiotic relationship between the Romans and the Celts (the Gauls in France and the Britons in Britain) greased the wheel of the cultural and political expansion of the empire by egging the Celts on to adopt Roman-style systems of government and the young ones on to enlist in the Roman army as auxiliaries.

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Julius Caesar

However, the pacific era of the Roman-Celtic relationship saw cataclysmic waves of change that would punctuate the stability of the status quo as destabilizing forces loomed large in Western Europe: Firstly, the prospect of Germans occupying the Alps was a cause of concern to the Roman Elite. Secondly, Julius Caesar, the ambitious Roman ruler who was seeking for a popular acclaim to fortify his rulership in the empire as well as booty enough to get himself out of debts, determined to impose his despotic rules on the peoples of the conquered lands as portrayed in The Adventures of Asterix. Then later, there came Claudius, the lame and slightly deaf emperor who was spared of his life by his nephew Caligula perhaps on account of such physical defects. Claudius launched a campaign of conquest in northern Europe to attain military prowess in the region and thus enforced totalitarian policy on the management of the colonial systems, discouraging autonomous trading and social and cultural exchanging between the colonial and the colonialist.

In light of the above, the relationship between the colonialist and the colonial sometimes begets unexpectedly mutual benefits in terms of cultural exchanges between the two peoples counter-intuitive byproducts, such as attested in the case of the Romans and the Celts, which could lead to diversification of native cultures, enriching the wealth of cultural legacies that would become another mode of new culture. If the Celts had been vehemently resisted against the cultural influences of the Romans as a result of the conquest of their lands, the cultures and history of Western Europe would and could have become very different from what we have known today, such as the English language, architectural and other historical artifacts, and political systems. In my opinion, sometimes, the colonial regime is not altogether downright evil in the sense that it somehow results in amalgamation of cultures favorable to both of the ruling and the ruled, not out of the benevolence of the former for sure but of the necessity of governing the conquered in the most effective way in order that the conqueror may quell the social and political dissonance arising out of the inept administration of the colonial affairs. In point of view as held by Ancient Athenian historian Thucydides, one must listen to the other less popular side of the story to transcend the subjectivity of times and to test the validity of truth. In this regard, I opine that however adamantly one may object to the benefits derived from the Roman-Celtic relationship, it attests to the fact that it enriched the cultures of both of the peoples and helped them reshape their ideas of epicurean ways of life that has passed on to the present progeny.

 

Author’s Note: The inspiration of this essay comes from my reading of “Traders to Invaders,” written by Barry Cunliffe, formerly professor of European archeology at the University of Oxford, from December 2018 issue of BBC History Magazine.

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Kinship of Aeneas, George Orwell, and J.K. Rowling

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I see them almost every day with carts chockablock with their haggard belongings at a coffeeshop in the morning. They come in disheveled, reeking of abandonment of hygiene, but they seem past caring of it, let alone resigned to unwelcome glances of strangers. They are no less than Mendicants, Vagabonds, Tramps, Panhandlers, Beggars, or the Homeless themselves, defying the laws of social evolution and Marxist dialectic changes. You see,  they have withstood epochal changes.

It was one Monday morning while I was perking up my spirit still under the spell of weekend reverie with a cup of coffee in my regular Starbucks shop nearby my workplace when a homeless woman approached me and cadged for money to buy coffee. I conceded her plea because her forlorn spirit manifesting in her once beautiful face evoked pathos, which would have stung me with a pang of conscience if I had let it foregone. Besides, the fact that she was a woman living in the street, where all foreseeable and unforeseeable risks were lurking to violate her dignity as a fair sex, vexed my mind and heart. It was all too a fortiori opportune to read the article with the lethargic face of the homeless woman still fresh on my mind.

Never mind piousness, didacticism, and self-righteousness. It goes against the grain to decry poverty at the door of the poor themselves, which is always easy and convenient to pin down based on personal faults, but that would attest superciliousness of being not one of the unfortunate kinds. That is to say, the homeless is the result of addiction to substances, laziness, and careless ways of modus vivendi; therefore, the homeless are unworthy of sympathy nor empathy.

As a matter of fact, the liberals wade in with their de rigueur weary blaming of the heartless conservatives for their preferential treatment of the given, the fortunate, the haves, while the conservatives lambast the cry babies’ importuning their sorry states as a tendency of the cossetted dependency substratum. Both of the parties do nothing but grandstanding against one another for their voting rights that exclude these “marginals” of society they could not care less. However, the causes of homelessness are one collective social evil comprising many a factor; it’s a complex one involving mental health issues for sure, skyrocketing rent fees as a result of rampant trend of gentrification, prevalent lay-offs and unresolved unemployment rates, low wages, integration of families, and a variety of personal elements that are oftentimes looked on with insignificance as trifles. George Orwell, whose brief period of impecuniousness upon returning from Paris to London forced him to live as a tramp as plainly narrated in his empirical Down and out in Paris and London, conceded: “… if they [the homeless] are worse than other people, it is the result and not the cause of their way of life.” That is to say, no one wants to be homeless with a will.

Come to think of it, our human conditions are precarious and many times operated outside the boundary of planned stratagem, for human life is woven by unexpected variables and vicissitudes that befall any one like you never know. Aeneas, a royal Trojan hero in Virgil’s Aeneid, became homeless in the wake of the fall of Troy and found himself and his homeless followers dependent upon the kindness of Dido, the queen of Carthage and her people. The great Russian writer Maxim Gorki and the American Jack London were once homeless. And there is J.K Rowling, who lived a life of near-homelessness with her infant daughter without a job before the first book of the Harry Potter series was published. Woe betides anyone who patronized them for the want of the gumption before they became somebody.

Whether or not we like it, the caste of the homeless will most likely to proliferate unless political leaders stop pontificating about their party ideologies that lose touch with the realistic world of everyday life of the ordinary people. They say the extravagant lifestyles of the aristocracy and their haughty treatment of the poor were the sine qua non of the French Revolution, which was the radical reconstruction of the class system that excluded the welfare of the poor. Then why do I yoke the images of the haughty aristocrats to those of the present-day politicians who seem to thrust the issues of rising homelessness into the bottom of a filing bin and to keep pointing fingers at the homeless for their misfortune? Maybe in an irony of fates, if these politicians wake up one morning and find themselves in the shoes of the unfortunate, they might understand it, but I hope it will not be too late then.

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On keeping a journal

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Frau am Schreibtisch (Woman at writing desk ) by Lesser Ury

Keeping a journal is, I believe, a vehicle for creating myself, my sense of selfhood. Every page of my dairy is to be breathed with my heart that does not have to entertain anybody but myself.  It’s also proof that I have lived situations which today would seem uncertain and fretful, that I have climbed up the paths of my life thus far to reach the peaks so ambitious, so adventurous. Above all, I want to bring out every treasure that is buried deep in my heart. So writing day in and day out in my Midori Traveler’s Notebook is my daily ritual to remember what it is to be me, which is always the whole point of doing it.

I carry about my traveler’s notebook  everywhere I go to write my journal and reading pointers from books I read, and some occasionally attempted drawings for practice. There are three notebooks: One is used categorically for my freedom of thoughts, feelings, and just about anything that is to be kept only for myself. It’s not to be shared by anyone, so my soul can rest herself there. Another one is for notes I take from reading that I need to refer to when I write book reviews. And the last one is reserved for jotting down anything out of brainstorm, from devising storyboards for my short stories, to scratching some images of my poems, to making bullet lists to do, and to practicing my newly inspired drawings for more balanced nourishment of my soul. Most of the times – that is 5 days a week – before heading into my job, I usually go to a coffee shop and write in my beloved Midori. It is during this writing time when I feel creative and special out of the melee, out of the existential horrors of every day, and out of the humdrum of daily life.

I love combining drawings and a variety of crafting to my writing to heighten the expressions of feelings and deepen the depths of thoughts in the way I want them to. The only obstacle I have to huddle is drawing. As someone whose aesthetic standard is as high as that of Pope Julius II, who commissioned Michelangelo to fresco the Sistine Chapel,  I only wish I could draw things I see to its exactness with fine details. But then I always remind myself of the adage: “A flower does not compare itself to other flowers. It just blooms.”

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In the Garden by Celia Thaxter

Therefore, keeping a diary is a veritable record of myself, a personal treaties on the breadth and depth of being who I really am. It sounds grandiose, but writing in my Midori gives rise to the elevation of my weltanschauung in reflection of contextualizing concepts and beliefs kept in me and also helps me unearth hidden treasure in the realm of unconscious mind. And by creating a kind of work relating to the crafts of the arts, I like to think that I am fulfilling my purpose of life to live a meaningful life, for the sake of ego qua meaningfulness. That said, I like to cherish Kurt Vonnegut’s advice that the arts are what makes the human life bearable and livable in dealing with existential matters of daily lives, for practicing any form of the arts – however clumsily or amateurishly done –  is a noble means to attend My Secret Garden of Mind full of Begonias of Fancy, Roses of Beauty, Tulips of Passion, Lavenders of Devotion, all blooming and bountiful around Spring of Eternal Youth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” by Handel

IMG_3955 Sally was enjoying alone at Baroque her respite from the demands placed upon her weekly tasks and responsibilities at her new job. Baroque is a newly opened coffee house where her best friend Bonnie is both a manager and attendant, provisioning customers with delicious pastries, cookies, freshly-brewed coffee and exquisitely beautiful Baroque music composed by Bach, Handel, Pachelbel, Vivaldi, et al. at the behest of her aunt Laura, who is the proprietress of the establishment. It is all the more fitting to Sally’s musical taste and sensibilities. Which is why she has made it her elbow room where she can rest herself reading and writing enveloped in an atmospheric ambience of highly sophisticated cultural surrounding rare to find these days.

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Sally likes the delicateness of the Baroque (which means an irregular shape of pearls in Portuguese) music, especially the works of Bach and Handel, the Father and the Mother of Music, or Saints of Music. It’s all in the family blood: her father was an admirer of Bach and felt exalted when listening to Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 In G Major, BWV 1048: Allegro. He might have been wanting of the practical sense of the world or the “gumption,” but his eminent scholarship of the Arts and Humanities was his essence, his primary reality. That’s the legacy of eclectic cultural taste and erudition Sally has extolled and preserved against the struggles of life in which she always tries to grasp on a sense of social and cultural superiority, while guiding her elderly parents on the long taxing climb to financial security. Here in this Sunday morning, Sally’s spirit was flitting in the celestial garden alone, while indulging herself in listening to The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba by Handel. In fact, it’s her favorite musical piece in the world, her primary soundtrack of life, her sui generis leitmotif  that is hers, hers only, hers exclusively.

MI0002991573Bonnie was smiling at her friend Sally’s intoxication with the music outwardly manifested on her pretty face in the form of dreamy look with her eyes closed as if she were watching musicians playing it on stage just for her. That’s one of the reasons Bonnie likes her friend: Sally’s artlessness unsullied by her intelligent prowess makes her trustful, beautiful, and soulful. When Sally opened her eyes, she smiled at Bonnie and started piping up: “You know Bonnie, I love this music so much that all my grief, angst, and trifles desiccate, then die… It’s very vivacious and and jubilant, uplifting my otherwise somber mood to make me believe that the world isn’t that such a bad place to live.” Sally’s eyes becoming sparkling with verve and her cheeks flushed with rose pink, all because of the love of the music. And her rhapsody of love began as follows:

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George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba is a sinfonia for two oboes and strings written by George Frideric Handel, originally from Germany but later moved to England for advancement of his musical career. By the way his father was an eminent barber-surgeon as it was customary for a barber to work sideline as a dentist and surgeon. That’s a bit odd, isn’t it? Anyway, the music was first premiered in London as the first scene of Act III in the oratorio Solomon. But rather than the whole oratorio, this brightly charming interlude has been widely appreciated as a separate set piece because it’s so appealing to the senses, I presume. Besides, the piece was widely played during wedding ceremonies into the bargain! Come to think of it, it is such a vivacious melody apposite to an entrance of a beautiful bride into a church. You know,  like the beautiful regal queen of Sheba arriving at Jerusalem with a grand entourage, with camels carrying a munificent largess, a resplendent panoply of magnificent treasure!”

IMG_4099While listening to Sally’s lecture on Handel and the sinfonia, Bonnie was envisioning in her mind’s eye a scene in which she as a chaste and beautiful bride in wedding gown like a valley in a vale was entering a cathedral to proceed to the altar where her gallant husband was waiting… That’s a nice change of mundane scenery of life, Bonnie thought. Ah, the power of the music is so irresistibly masculine and impossibly arresting that the only way you can escape from its fatally sensuous intoxication is to yield to it. It’s all because of the magic of music, moody food that is bartered for love. The Bard knew it as well: “In sweet music is such art: killing care and grief of heart fall asleep, or hearing die.”

thanks-for-reading-Rok-Hardware

 

 

 

Ah, Bartleby! Ah, Humanity!

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It was more than 10 years ago when I first read Herman Melville’s Bartleby, a short story about an unwonted young man employed as a scrivener by a Wall Street lawyer. At that time, Bartleby stroke me as a very eccentric, imprudent worker who had the temerity to reject his boss’s orders. He was just a mentally deranged man with only a few words, other than “I would prefer not to do …”

But now I see him different. Since I re-read the story this afternoon, I have felt bottomless sympathy for Bartleby. Mixed with pathos and sprinkles of humor in the narrative of his benevolent former employer, the figure of Bartleby evokes springs of human compassion and humanity itself. And my feelings for this tragic scrivener amount to what the narrator felt about his former employee.

I am not intent on “analyzing” the psychological aspects of Bartleby and his former Wall Street lawyer boss. And I think not that even the writer Melville himself had such psychoanalytical views on these characters in mind when he wrote the story. To me the story itself shows what made a sensitive man like Bartleby to such demise in the eyes of a compassionate man – and a decent employer seldom found these days. Loneliness, Hopelessness, Sorrow, and Reality of Death all packaged in written forms burned in flames stagnated the humanness in the forlorn scrivener. The Death of Humanity, that is. Having worked in the Office of Dead Letters at Washington would suffice it. Surely, there is no doubt that Bartleby was mentally disturbed, but who would hate or even despise him for his malaise?…

Then readers might object to the premise that it’s only a fictional story in which no such characters will/would exist in reality. But I think not so. As a matter of fact, I have always believed that fictions are always built upon factual elements of human life to a certain degree. Dismissing stories as creations of imaginativeness seems to miss the fundamental truths laid under changes and choice of our human life with a bit of creative imaginations. Ditto Stephen King, who has once said that the stories are artifacts that are not really made up, but that are based upon preexisting objects we discover.

The tall, lean, pallid and lugubrious image of Bartleby the Scrivener still lingers in my mind… Having dealt with tons of letters from those who died in despair, those who died hopeless, and those who died suffocated by insurmountable sufferings, Bartleby had lost his own sense of existence, feeling utterly dispirited, pessimistic, and lethargic in performing demands of his duty. It was the loss of meaning of life that made him passively resistant to all the ordinary functions of daily life which all seemed insignificant to him. The life itself was nihilistic and hence non-existential to Bartleby. Humanity in the expressions of feelings and emotions meant nothing to him; it had ceased to exist in the form of dead letter attesting to existential horrors, which had led the authors to death, which had taken the poor Bartleby as the witness thereof.

Thus, the lamentable outcry of the narrator still deeply reverberates in my mind even after I closed the book: “Ah, Bartleby! Ah, Humanity!”

P.S. This is my bygone writing about Herman Melville’s classic short story of “Bartleby, the Scrivener” that I had written prior to the inception of my blog.