History

Game of Roses, or How George R.R. Martin Gave New Names to Historical Persons

I see my friends getting all excited for the new season of Game of Thrones. It almost makes me wish for HBO. But as I’ve said before, I’ve read the books, and as I’ve said before, Martin has drawn heavily on the actual history of 15th-century England in creating his saga. Sure, most people with a basic knowledge of the Wars of the Roses will see York and Lancaster in Stark and Lannister, but it goes deeper than that. Some of the key characters are practically reincarnated versions of real people who played the game of thrones in an England drenched in war.

To wit: (Spoiler-Free for anyone who has seen up to the end of Season 3 of the series, but hasn’t read the books) (more…)

Alexander the Great Haunted His Followers For Decades

Which, of course, we knew. The Tale of the Diadochi would make a grand tragedy were it not so feverishly complicated. There have to be five or six tragic heroes among them, each one more hubris-laden than the next. But this book, which I’ve just started:

 

…spells out everything in clear, beat-by-beat style. There’s probably a dynastic study of the Argeads coming up on this blog, but how this story hasn’t been turned into an epic cable series  (Showtime: this is how you beat Game of Thrones. The story’s all-written already!) is beyond me. There are even compelling female characters who aren’t Alexander’s mom!

I’m two chapters in, and savoring every word.

Henry VIII and His Desperate Dynasty

Sarah Hoyt addresses the elephant in in the doublet:

Is that a fat joke?

Anyway, so every author agrees Henry VIII as a young man was a true renaissance man, good at everything and so very good looking.  And every author wonders what dread disease caused him to turn not just into a murderous tyrant, but a stupid murderous tyrant in old age.

Except if you dig in you find that when his dumbest moves were made was after he’d killed his two ministers, first the great one and then his apprentice.  (Wolsey and Cromwell.)  Which brings us to… was he really that brilliant or were they great at manipulating him.

She goes on to question his authorship of his books and music, the quality of his poetry, and the wisdom of his policy, given that despite helping himself to the centuries-old wealth of monastic England, he still left the kingdom in debt.

Which is nice to see, because I’m plumb tired of Henry VIII and really, all his dynasty. The Tudors (1485-1603) are a vastly overrated family, as a ruling group, and as people. Their accomplishments are dwarfed by the attention afforded them. (more…)

Bloggers Don’t Die, They Just Burn Out.

It’s 9/11, and I’ve mostly given up blogging about 9/11, because I don’t have anything new to say on it. My Year Ten at Ground Zero post at Revolutionary Nonsense pretty much summed it up:

So, with the shattered Towers transformed into watered gravestones for those eternally interred by them, we can at last put our grief and rage from memory into history. We have remembered, and we have moved on, through the light and shadow of a world born in fire. We make the best of that world to the extent that we feel that those who suffered at last have peace. Time will bury all wounds, but as the centuries pass, men and women will walk through Lower Manhattan and see the names of those martyred for being American.

This is what stands in the place of smoke and death today. Because, America.

Rather, I’m more interested in the subject of the blogosphere, partially because Instapundit took the opportunity of the anniversary to ponder his status as survivor, but mostly because I seemed to notice the blogosphere at about that time. I started blogging myself in 2003, and I’m still doing it. But I’ve burned out a couple of times. It happens. It starts to feel like a job, or worse, an unpaid internship that never ends. You start getting bored with the struggle to say something that several million people are not already saying. So you just stop.

But I keep coming back. Whenever I shuttered a blog, I would suddenly find myself with things to say. So I’d start a new blog. At one point I had two, plus a randomly updated LiveJournal. That was too much, which prompted me to set up shop at WordPress in 2011.

I don’t nuke blogs when I tire of them anymore. The new rule is: When I don’t feel like blogging, I don’t blog. Andrew Sullivan used to take August off, I usually end up doing the same. When I feel like blogging again, I come back.

Here’s another blogger that burned out and came back. She’s funny, too.

Welcome to Imperial Rome

Victor Davis Hanson calls out the steps, and our progressive New Class masters dance to them:

Sometime in the mid-first century a.d., an otherwise little known consular official, Gaius Petronius, wrote a brilliant satirical novel about the gross and pretentious new Roman-imperial elite. The Satyricon is an often-cruel parody about how the Roman agrarian republic of old had degenerated into a wealth-obsessed, empty society of wannabe new elites, flush with money, and both obsessed with and bored with sex. Most of the Satyricon is lost. But in its longest surviving chapter — “Dinner with Trimalchio” — Petronius might as well have been describing our own 21st-century nomenklatura.

For the buffoonish libertine guests of the host Trimalchio, food and sex are in such surfeit that they have to be repackaged in bizarre and repulsive ways. Think of someone like the feminist mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner, who once railed about the need to enforce sexual-harassment laws, now only to discover ever creepier ways to grope, pat, grab, squeeze, pinch, and slobber on 18 co-workers and veritable strangers, whether in their 20s or over 60. Unfortunately, the sexual luridness does not necessarily end with Filner’s resignation; one of his would-be replacements is already under attack by his opponents on allegations that as a city councilman he was caught masturbating in the city-hall restroom between public meetings.

He’s just getting warmed up, but I’ll cut to the chase:

Just as Petronius’s world went on for another 400 years, ours may too.

Read the whole thing.

Medieval Dynastic Fail: The Normans

A while back, I jumped off an article about one of the world’s remaining functional monarchies, that of Morocco, to an argument that survival was the key to success for a monarch. I used the Capetians as an example.

Today I’m going to unsay a little of that, and use as an example a dynasty contemporary to the Capetians, who, though they made about as big a mark on history as can be imagined, they survived less than 100 years: The Normans.

William the Conqueror is one of history’s more interesting characters: the illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy and a tanner’s daughter, William overcame his bastardy (a serious mark against him in those days) to not only succeed to his father’s dukedom, but maintain it’s independence against all the other lords of France. Whereupon he took an almost pitiable claim to the English throne and, in a turn of events that would be laughable in fiction, conquered England almost at one blow. And unlike other fearsome warrior kings, he did not maintain a bevy of courtesans, but remained almost touchingly devoted to his wife. Having worn the title “Bastard” for much of his life, he seems to have made a conscious decision not to bring any into the world. He died a magnificent success, in his saddle (according to one source, by his saddle) as he had lived.

Greater than the romantic color of this life is the significance of it. The Norman Conquest of England changed forever the culture of the conquered land. The English language, hitherto but one of many Germanic tongues of the North Sea, took on a French/Latin tinge that gave it the size and flexibility it enjoys today as the world’s first diplomatic language. England ceased to be a peripheral power and became one of the chief realms of Medieval Europe. Politically, the personal union of Normandy and other French territories to the English throne led to 500 years of conflict with French kings, culminating in the bloodshed of the Hundred Years War. Few men of the Middle Ages made as great a mark on the times as did this illegitimate orphan, who lost his father at the age of seven.

Yet his dynasty was gone almost within a century of his birth. Why?

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The Myths of Gettysburg

The Union Forever!

150 years ago, today, my great-great-great-grand-uncle, Dallas Patrick, a private in 11th Pennsylvania Reserve Infantry
(40th Volunteers), was taking part in the largest land battle ever to take place on the North American continent. I’ve been to Gettysburg on several occasions, and some part of me would kind of like to be there to see the re-enactment of Pickett’s Charge. But another part of me is just fine with sitting here and breaking down some of the mythic detritus that has gathered around this scar of history. To wit:

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Why You Should Read the Classics

Victor Davis Hanson reminds us that nothing is new under the sun, and the old books remind us that we’ve been here before. (via Ace)

We can learn from classics that most of us are more likely to resent superiority than to reward it, to distrust talent than to develop it. With classical training, our impatient youth might at least gain some perspective that the world is one where the better man is often passed over — precisely because he is the better man.

There is a profundity about the human soul in that truth. It grates. It offends. Man is not Just. Man is indeed wolf to man, as the old Roman proverb goes (homo homini lupus). We find ourselves then seemlingly forced to choose between abandoning justice or abandoning man. But neither choice seems right, does it?

And thence, to the discussion of the rerun of the decadence of ancient Rome that we are experiencing:

It is not just that plenty of slaves, purple dye, marble, forced vomiting, and piped-in water mean that we don’t have to rise at dawn to hoe the vineyard and bathe in ice-cold streams and therefore become lazy, corpulent, and decadent. Rather, material progress is usually accompanied by moral regress largely because of the leisure to master a critical consciousness and intellectual gymnastics well apart from the fears of religion: if we can explain, in a sophisticated and convincing manner, why something bankrupt is true, then it surely must be true: Vero possumus! Who is to say that Lindsay Lohan is not more interesting than Gen. Mattis?

Language in the postmodern world becomes more layered — and fluid — (compare “overseas contingency operations“ for terrorism or “investments” for deficit spending). The sophistic citizen has the leisure and training to third-guess ancient protocols. Without a soul, the good life here is it. Sarcasm, cynicism, skepticism, and nihilism so abound that there must always be a third and fourth meaning.

Languages ceases to be a tool and becomes a game, and then a hustle, and finally an incomprehensible fog. We wound our own nature, as creatures which name things, when we dance these monkeyshines. We condemn ourselves, as creatures of rationality, to confusion, and helplessness, and ignorance, because we have convinced ourselves that knowledge is impossible.

The good news is, as the classics remind us, is that these moments of decline are not the end. Falseness and weakness do not survive. Achilles may suffer at Agamemmnon’s hands, but Agamemmnon is going to get got.

The truth will set you free.