Tuesday 31 January 2023

Meet your Hero?

Hannibal Barca

Have you ever been asked the question: "If you could meet one person from history who would that be?"  Perhaps a little idle musings with your friends, at school, over break. Mayhap it was an assignment given by a teacher. Regardless, it is an idea, that inevitably arises in thoughtful folk at some time in their life. Here is my hero.  

Hannibal Barca b247 BC.

Now you may ask? Flaxen, true Englishman as you are, and given your rich cultural history, replete with a litany of fine heroes to worship, why do you choose an ancient foreigner? Tis inexplicable and requires further enunciation. That is a valid response and one that I will try to answer, as follows.  

Hannibal continues to fascinate and inflame my soul and hopefully, I'm able to put forth a few reasons why this man requires/demands adulation. Hannibal's life, wars and schemes are well known and we have several separate accounts of his campaigns and exploits. That said, what we have is a little one-sided and comes exclusively from his bitter enemies, the Romans/Greeks. Consider the calamity/calumny if we only had accounts of Napolean written by the British. Thus, the account of Hannibal's life is vastly biased in favour of the ultimate victors. All history is presented this way to a greater or lesser degree. As well as a general Hannibal was highly educated and versed in several languages, including Greek. According to Cornelius Nepos, Hannibal is said to have written books in Greek, including: 'Addressed to the Rhodians on the deeds of Cnaeus Manilius Vulso'. Sounds like a right riveting read. In addition, he was accompanied on his campaigns by a Greek secretary, Sosilos. Sosilos is said to have written an account of Hannibal's attainments during the great adventure of the Second Punic War. Alas, any writings by the great man himself and the works of Sosilos have been lost. What a treasure they would have provided for modern historians.

I mentioned Napolean previously. Though Napolean was ultimately defeated his genius in war can not be denied, even by an Englishman. Similarly, Hannibal has deserved a similar accolade. If there had been a colourful female component to the 'story' surely Shakespeare would have produced a play in his honour. Perhaps he should have fleshed out the ephemeral figure of Imilce; a flurry of embellishment to mete/meat out his narrative. The shade of Dido would emerge from the wings, stage right. And what about the poor doomed Sophonisba. A pawn in the affairs of man and tossed aside for expedience's sake; a barbarian's passions thwarted. Surely a tragic tale worthy of exposition. It is not as if Shakespeare was unaware of Hannibal due to some unfathomable gap in his education, for posterity we have this from his pen: ''A witch, by fear, not force, like Hannibal, Drives back our troops, Arse''. Although the narratives have not kind been to Hannibal, they cannot hide a grudging admiration for the man, and importantly, they cannot leave out his deeds. And it is in his deeds that we observe and acknowledge the pure unadorned greatness of the man (stop waxing lyrical Flaxen). And those deeds are prodigious, indeed. For Hannibal managed to maintain a campaign on hostile lands, with meagre support from his homeland, for sixteen years. During this time he was harried by enemy forces constantly. Often these forces greatly exceeded Hannibal's beleaguered army, in men and arms. If we are to reckon true genius it does not always come with the furious flurry of battle. Look to events where Hannibal's cunning and mobility left the Romans chasing their tales. What a man reveals in prolonged adversity proves true greatness. But let us not forget his glory. In the initial flurry of his campaign, he inflicted three catastrophic defeats on the Romans driving them to their knees. Although I praise Hannibal, a degree of exaltation must surely be reserved for his opponents. Tis a testament to the stoic, iron-hard toughness and the fanatical political steadfastness of the Romans in that they did not buckle or waver in their ultimate war aims. What other nation, of the time, could have prevailed under such severe adversity?

Hannibal was a Phoenician by descent, and his ancestors hailed from the coast of Canaan (the city of Tyre). Thus the Carthaginians were Semites related to their staunch foes the Israelites, although, by the time of the Punic wars the Carthaginians had already been ensconced in their north African homeland for 600 years. Hannibal hailed from the aristocratic Barcid family and by the time of the Punic wars this noble house had been thoroughly interbred with Greek stock; hybrid vigour. The Barcid family were rich and connected, and at this time, had emerged as the premier family involved in Carthaginian political affairs and military matters. Hannibal's father, Hamilcar, had been a highly respected general in the First Punic War against Rome (264-241 BC). Getting back to the man- Hannibal is the Roman rendition of the Punic, Chenu Bechala (Grace of Baal).  

As for the character and personality of the man, again, we enter the land of the 'shifting sands' of history. The Romans of the time hated Hannibal with a white-hot passion, and no doubt, they had a right to do so. Throughout his 16-year /campaign/reign on Italian soil, he conducted himself with elaborate skill and cunning. Hannibal was undoubtedly a tactical genius and it has been estimated that of the 750,000 soldiers the Romans raised and placed in the field during the war, no less than 300,000 fell to the sword. The Romans recognised Hannibal's bravery in the field and the devotion his troops had for the man. As for an insight into Hannibal's personality, I will defer to the writings of a Greek scholar, Polybius. Polybius was a close contemporary of Hannibal's, and a friend of Rome, and although he had never met Hannibal, he had interviewed men who did know him. The main conclusion drawn by Polybius is that Hannibal was excessively cruel and had a fondness for riches. The criticism of cruelty was analysed by Polybius and he admits that on occasion, as mediated by military expediency, and circumstance, acts of cruelty appear justified. Though I'm not condoning cruelty, it has to be said that the act of war, and the fortunes of war, is by necessity pitiless. This concept applies equally to the ancients and moderns alike. And certainly, the Romans, themselves, were particularly noted for their cruelty, especially during the sack of a city.        

A few final remarks: There is little doubt that Hannibal was a military genius (a necessary overused word in this essay). However, twas his sad and anointed fate to be pitied against the Romans. It is my considered and studied opinion, that Rome, of the time, was unbeatable and Hannibal by ridiculous poor fortune and happenstance/happenchance had been thrown against this most implacable and indomitable of nations. I don't have the space to elaborate on this bold assertion, however, my unsupported claim demands a future post-watch this space (?space-cadet).  

Hannibal ultimately failed in his quest to vanquish the Romans; a tragic fallen hero. But do we extol the military virtues, or even remember Hannibal's nemesis? Few can recall the victor at the battle of Zama in 202 BC. Poor Scipio Africanus is lauded by no one. Hannibal's deeds have resounded/resonated down the centuries and if nothing else, folk remember his trek across the Alps, with elephants. Even today, military tacticians study the battles that made Hannibal immortal.    

I have prattled on enough and will finish with the avowed final words of the man himself. As an old man, Hannibal decided to take poison rather than fall prisoner to the hated Romans:

 "Let us now remove the Romans of their fears by the death of a feeble old man".



Thursday 26 January 2023

The Siege in the Ancient World

Bloody Romans

A few random musings (and a little bit of bollix) from the Flaxen Haired One

Directly quoted from the lesser-known Ferret's Bible of 1843 (Book of Eric)

Woe unto the Tiptonites!

And the Dudleyites raised a loud noise, ran about a bit, and played the tuba, badly. Then did the walls fall over a bit as they had been made by a shonky builder. And the people rushed in and started looting Aldis, Poundland and other stores of note. All was destroyed and the Tiponites were utterly vanquished. All men, women, kids, dogs, and Fred the tortoise were put to the edge of the sword. Only Shagger, the ferret survivedeth. 

Sometime, perhaps 10,000 years ago, a group of hunter-gatherer folk decided that the nomadic existence was without further merit and a change in lifestyle was required.

It was a simple life. The clan would range far and wide partaking in the fruits of the land and hunting prey. This suited small populations and the tribe had to migrate and exploit large areas of land. Successful tribes began to wax great and when the population exceeded the land's carrying capacity, a conflict between competing groups became inevitable.  

Due to a confluence of environmental factors, various locations become suitable for a novel form of existence/subsistence. Where large rivers meandered and the climate deemed moderate, folk started to harvest the wild grains and began to select for, and control, stolid and placid (eventually) livestock. This combination became irresistible and favoured populations began to thrive. Tis at this stage we see the kernels of the Nile, Levant and Indus civilisations. No longer would folk have to range far and wide to gain sustenance. Crops could be cultivated and animals harvested. However, a static lifestyle came with problems, akimbo. Lesser folk on the periphery began to envy the settled way of life. Settled communities prospered and a surplus of food encouraged specialisation and social stratification. However, most of the folk had to work hard to till the land and slaughter the sheep. And, inevitably, a  minority of society emerged that lived off the fat of the labour and land and became priests, diviners, chieftains and other useless folk. They did bugger all and profited akimbo, akimbo. This remains the same to this very day. 

The hunter-gatherers became covetous of the settled folk's possessions and reasoned that they should take from the settled community as was their wont. Obviously, this provoked a response and the engrained folk began to build fortifications around their communities. A ditch and a mud 'wall' sufficed at first, but the aggressive interlopers found ingenious ways to assault and overcome. Mud brick walls were succeeded/surpassed by a glacis and curtain walls fashioned from stone- woe to the nomads!    

Every action has a reaction and this is particularly the case when it came to fortifications. For the aggressors, the problem was a technical one and the brave staunch warrior took a back seat to the engineer. There were a number of solutions that could be manufactured and cunningly applied. Scaling ladders allowed access, but defenders could easily defeat this method of ingress. And of course, the walls could be constructed to such a height that the technical problems of employing/applying a ladder became insurmountable. Walls over 20 metres were impervious to this form of penetration. The solution: sappers could undermine a section of wall. A breach would form below the surface and the hole braced with wood. At a suitable moment, the wood would be set ablaze and the wall would tumble down. All the better if the breach occurred under a tower. The counter solution: The defenders generally became aware of the tunnelling operations from the beginning and thus counter tunnelling and the construction of a secondary wall were undertaken. Battering rams tipped with bronze assaulted the high walls. Covered moveable carts added mobility and provided protection from missiles raining from above. 

Gates represented a weak point in the fortified wall. Gates attracted the attention of the besiegers and in consequence, great effort was expended in 'buttressing' this impediment. Double gates, fronted with iron combined with flanking towers proved very effective. If the offenders managed to penetrate this gate they would be assaulted by warriors atop bristling high balconies that proceed in parallel array to a second similarly fortified entrance. Between the gates was a narrow killing zone where defenders hurled arrows, rocks, boiling fluids, javelins, and on some occasions vocal obscenities (ouch). 

Woe to the vanquished

Treachery was oft employed. The Greeks and Romans were great exponents of this technique. If a citizen, or a clique, could be persuaded to betray their fellow citizens an easy conquest was usually assured. If all failed the besiegers could settle down for a long haul. The city would be encompassed with fortifications and with no external relief forthcoming the city would be totally reliant on its own resources. Sieges could last years if a city was well-provisioned. The attackers could decide to find easier fruits elsewhere or succumb to disease. Relieving troops might appear over the horizon to provide succour and challenge the investment. A long siege might prove difficult and unpredictable. Perhaps negotiation might be deemed advantageous to both parties. A long siege is a costly affair, in men, materials and gelt. Years may pass before the besieged are in dire straights due to famine. Under these circumstances 'the holders of the keep' have little choice but accept unconditional surrender. In those circumstances the best that can be hoped for is enslavement. Therefore, citizens of the stronghold might be tempted to negotiate and treat for a 'favourable' outcome from the start. Terms of the treaty would often be sworn by invoking the appropriate god(s) that preside over such matters. This was a serious matter and would be considered inviolate in the Greek and Roman world. Piety favoured the attackers and favourable terms, at best, would allow the citizens to keep their lives and perhaps those goods that could be carried. They would be left unsullied and allowed to settle anew. The city would then be given up to the sack. That said, there were occasions when the attackers defaulted on their promise and fell on the fleeing defenders with wild abandon (see actions of the Romans: Hannabalic war).

In antiquity, once a city was breached, men, women and children faced a grim reality.  The rules of war (if they ever existed) did not apply in these instances. The Romans were particularly barbaric during the sack. All would be indiscriminately slaughtered without mercy, with no favour for age, sex or status. It has been documented that even the dogs of the city were cruelly destroyed. At such times the victor would cast aside considerations of kindred humanity and atavistic feelings aroused to a fever pitch would culminate in a primitive urge/surge to destroy. Innate horrors are unleashed and man's true nature becomes manifest in an orgy of doom.

We create a wasteland and call it peace. 







Monday 9 January 2023

Morbid Reflections

The Future looks Bleak/Black

We are now truly and firm embedded in the New Year. As I sit here in my study listening to the patter of the rain on the tiles, my mind drifts to contemplate the ultimate question/conundrum- what happens when we die? As I age the question becomes more insistent and intrusive. Recently, my aged mother contracted pneumonia. She lives in a 'Home come Hospital' which best suits her medical issues. The 'Lead Nurse' of the facility warned me that in, her opinion, it was likely that my mother would succumb. Even without a serious illness, she is close to being bedridden. Regardless, the facility provides quality care and tenders to all her needs. Anyway, the nurse provided contact numbers for the local funeral directors and gave me a hug. Three weeks later, the tough old bugger has beaten the infection and is unlikely to die from whatever ailed her.

My mother is not afraid of death. In truth, she relishes and embraces death's icy grip. As a Jehovah's Witness (JW), she has an absolute belief that at some time, in the future known only to Jehovah, she will be bodily resurrected and live upon paradise earth, for eternity. There is no doubt her beliefs give comfort and reassurance. I have to grudgingly admit, I envy my mother's certainty. However, I am well aware of JW teachings, tenets and dogma and I find the whole 'Religious Ediface' laughable, and undoubtedly cultish.

If we are to be strictly honest, thoughts of our ultimate demise become prominent, as we age. I have perpended deeply upon the topic. On reflection, I do not fear death- it would be silly and pointless to do so. That said, I do fear dying in pain and/or the associated loss of dignity. I am a believer in euthanasia, however, this is not a medical option in my adopted country. The wise man knows when he should leave the 'party' and venture unto the great unknown....... Worry not gentle reader, that time is not now.

I have skirted around the topic of Death in many of my posts and expressed my beliefs on what occurs after death. My opinions have subtly evolved over time due to my deep reflections and research. If I'm going to be intellectually honest, when asked the ultimate question, I answer with a firm response: "I do not know". This answer is a sincere reflection of my strict adherence to the 'Empirical Imperative', which underpins the scientific method. Data is required before we can honestly answer any question relating to nature and reality. And herein lies our problem. There is no available information pertaining to what happens after we take our last breath. Some folk would state that there is valid data from 'Near Death' experiences. Let me state the obvious: Near-Death experiences are not data points pertinent to the question. They are merely the expression of a brain deprived of oxygen. Neurophysiologists have convincingly shown that similar episodes can be repeated by stimulating specific areas of the cerebral cortex. Science demands that the subjects under consideration undergo total brain cellular death and thereafter report their findings according to standard medical and scientific protocols. As far as I know, no such data is forthcoming. I await with frenzied anticipation for future developments within this field; it might be a long wait.

Religions, various, have much to say on the topic. I briefly introduced the JW doctrine, sadly my mother believes the whole deal. In a way, my mom is a perfect candidate for the JW religious cult. She is poorly educated and functionally illiterate.

Most religions consider some form of an afterlife where the virtuous are rewarded and the evil-doers punished. During the Middle Ages, Catholic creed was truly wedded to a belief in a literal heaven and hell, and hell was a place of eternal conflagration and torment. These days there has been an official amelioration of the doctrine. In the 13th century a 'Third Domain' was added to the infernal mix of the afterlife. Purgatory (to purge)  became a halfway alternative to everlasting scorching. Purgatory was viewed as a place of 'abode' for those who, in life, committed minor sins. Purgatory was considered a place of cleansing. A temporary residence where its denizens tarried, but for a little while. Presumably, minor miscreants do not receive the whole 'hell experience' and therefore are subject to a light searing, divinely applied.  After a designated interval of 'cleansing', the individual, now free of sin, can happily progress to paradise. 

Judaism, like Christianity, has never had a consistent or unified concept concerning the afterlife. During Jesus's lifetime, different sects and divisions within Judaism held opposing doctrines. Surprisingly the Old Testament has little to say on the matter. From what I can discern, the conservative and strictly adherent Sadducees, considered death as final and consequently dismissed the possibility of 'life after death (surely an oxymoron). Other groups, within Judaism, thought that the afterlife was a rather ephemeral shadowy affair where the soul pottered about in Sheol, slowly fading away. As for modern Judaism, I will say this: Jewish thought is heavily centred upon this life. However, some Jews teach a future bodily resurrection in connection with a coming 'Messianic Age'. The fate of the departed is dependent upon God's judgement. All are judged according to their deeds/misdeeds in life. What transpires after divine justice gets a little hazy and I don't have space here to take into account the options that have been put forth by Jewish savants. 

Both Hinduism and Buddhism believe in reincarnation and reanimation of the soul after death. It is believed that the 'quality' of reincarnation is dependent upon works and actions performed during life. Obviously, this is a very simplistic and under-explained depiction provided by the golden/silver-haired one. The curious should go forth and read anew and become informed and intellectually invigorated!          

This is but a brief survey of religious belief concerning a continuation of consciousness following demise. What is the point of my babblings? Firstly, it seems that all cultures, irrespective of historical context, appear fascinated, absorbed/abhorred by the concept of a form of 'life' following bodily demise. Tis understandable, life is dense, unfathomable and often unfair. What is the point of existence? Why do evil men flourish and wax great, while the just and the righteous suffer indignity and suffering? With a belief in a just deity surely there must be divine redress, if not in this world, then the next. 

The sad truth is that there is no evidence or data to support any of the religious musings concerning the fate of the dead. Science, as practised over the past 400 years, or so, has shown that, as a species, we are nothing particularly special. Mayhap Homo Sapiens are the smartest organism to dominate our fragile planet. All that said, we are animals after all. Animals that share 99% of our genetic make-up with our close relative, the Chimpanzee. Considering all the diverse religions out there, with their diverse views, there appears to be a consensus that humans are special and animated by 'God's spark'. Other animals are lesser breeds and are not so favoured or patronised by the resident deity, of choice. There is no consideration for animals to be suffused with a soul. Will I never bound and prance about with my long-dead ferret, Shagger, in the heavenly realm? The modern enlightened educated man knows the answer. 

Now for a few concluding thoughts. At the start of this 'loquacious post' I declared that according to the rule of the 'Empirical Imperative', I must remain silent as to what happens after we have taken our last breath. No evidence equals no conclusion. However, while I acknowledge this basic tenet, I feel inclined to express an opinion on the available evidence to hand (none). To be honest, the data I put forth belongs to the living organism and not the dead. Unfortunately, dead men tell no tales. 

I have rambled on too long and have broken the sacred '1,000-word rule' when it comes to blogging. May the gods (who/they/them/it - must respect gender fluidity, these days and not presume God's pronoun- after all, he could be a raving pooftah for all I know), give me peace and solace. 

The problem: consciousness is resident within the organ that we acknowledge as the brain. For all our scientific expertise, how awareness and cognisance become manifest is still an unfathomable mystery. Keeping in mind that the property of consciousness is firmly fixed to living neural tissue, and once the brain expires there is a loss of self-awareness, comprehension and thus consciousness. Therefore, I contend that death is equivalent to 'Socrate's gentle sleep'. Expect, but don't experience, oblivion. This is the fate of all cognisant, living organisms, stretching to eternity. Nuff said.            

Tuesday 3 January 2023


                                           Shagger says: "I'll bite yer nose clean orwf"

 Belated Happy New Year to all my fans. Or as I like to call them: 'Flaxen Acolytes'. Sadly I have not posted as much as I would have liked last month. Real life sometimes intrudes and other matters have taken precedence. I realise that my fan base, scattered wide and far, has been denied my ingeniously crafted posts. Wailing could be heard and on one occasion I distinctly observed gnashing of the molars (sans incisors).

Worry not brethren, I'm girding my loins for a foray into literary cogency, as long as I remember to take my meds. Acolytes of the flaxen-haired one, hark: I can state, with clarity and stout-hearted conviction that the month of January will ring with pertinence and validity/vitality. Posts will fly from my 'pen' and settle with mounting anticipation and erudition upon this blog of wonder.