Wednesday 31 January 2024

Galaphobia (Definitely Not Galeophobia)

Shit! Wrong Phobia 

Phobias are common. In the US alone, 13% of the population can be identified as exhibiting an irrational fear of specific objects or situations. The most common phobias include fear of heights (Acrophobia), fear of spiders (Arachnophobia), fear of enclosed spaces (Claustrophobia), and thus the list goes on. But today's post will not concern the mundane.  

In a past post, I dealt with the irrational fear of clowns, also known as Coulrophobia. My personal fear is being enclosed within small spaces. This is fairly commonplace, and I will comment no further. Today, I'm going to focus on a less commonly known phobia of which I have personal experience.

I'll start off with a strange phobia that impacted my own life many years ago. Way back when I was but a callow/shallow youth about 19 years of age, I had a girlfriend who will remain nameless. She was a willowy brunette with flashing green eyes. Now I wouldn't describe her as beautiful. To be honest, in a certain light, she was decidedly homely, and yet she exuded a charm and charisma that I found irresistible (mayhap she was Cleopatra in a past incarnation). She was endowed with a wonderfully quirky personality and exhibited a single bizarre oddity. My girlfriend had an aversion to milk. Interestingly enough, this particular phobia has a name but is extremely rare and goes by the name of, Galaphobia. Her phobia only extended to the liquid manifestation of the product. By the gods, why couldn't I fall in love with a girl with an irrational aversion to spiders!  Derivatives such as cheese and butter held no fears for her. However, the sight of milk, for instance, in a bowl would induce sheer terror, and she would run out of the kitchen shaking in fear. Of course, many folk thought the behaviour an affectation to be ascribed and due (unnecessary tautology) to the 'folly of youth'. But those who knew her intimately knew this not to be the case. The fear and terror were no doubt genuine and very real to her. As her boyfriend, I was interested in helping her cope with this condition and uncover the root cause. However, she could not attribute the fear to any particular incident in her early life. No medical help was sought as she was deeply ashamed of her affliction. As you can imagine, the condition was a difficult one to manage due to the universality of this opaque, nutrient-rich and life-giving elixir (steady Flax, you are starting to wax lyrical). For a time, we shared a single-roomed flat. A dingy affair (the flat was fine), but we made it our humble abode. Of course, milk was not an intrinsic element of our minuscule fridge, and during our time together, I drank my coffee black. Nonetheless, she had a particular fondness for cheese in all its guises and varieties. 

Although young, we often discussed what the future held for us and whether our love would blossom into long-term commitment. To be frank, we were too young to be considering impending nuptials. During our conversations, it appeared my lover was contemplating the burden of having children in the distant future. At the time, she was 18. This struck me as problematic as, during the process, she would have to cope with the anatomical reality of mammary glands overflowing with natural milky goodness. Considering her extreme reaction to the substance, it seemed to me that having children might not be a great plan. Anyway, our love proved tenuous, and she left me for another. I often wonder what happened to her and whether she managed to overcome her fear and achieve the wondrous and exalted state of motherhood.

Of interest, do any of my diminishing readership have a rare and interesting phobia that they would like to share with the rest of the folk who still frequent this blog?               


Friday 26 January 2024

Octavian and the Wise Corvidae

         'Quoth the Raven Nevermore'

Continuing with the theme of ancient history I would like to relate an anecdote concerning Caesars' successor. Of course, I'm referring to the enigmatic Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, more commonly known to history as Augustus. After Caesar developed a bout of terminal exsanguination in the Senate, and after following a series of adventures, wars and trouble with Marcus Antonius and an exotic foreign bint, culminating in the battle of Actium (31 BC), Octavian took control of the free world.  Context: Octavian, Caesar's great-nephew, was nominated as the late Dictator's heir in his will. After learning of his great uncle's demise, he swiftly returned from Apollonia (in present-day Albania) to Rome to exploit his good fortune. And the rest, of course, is history........

The following story is a mere interlude in this man's life and character. There is no doubt I will return, at a later date, to look, in more depth, into the life of this most fascinating and influential character. But today, I will relate a simple yarn. Take it as you will.

Not long after the battle of Actium, Octavian was being borne by litter through the cluttered streets of Rome when he was approached by a man holding a Raven. Now, Ravens belong to the Corvidae family and are noted for their exceeding intelligence. Anyway, this diligent and wise owner had trained the bird to recite: "Hail Caesar, the victorious commander". Octavian was so taken and charmed by the avian utterance that he gave the owner a sum of 20,000 sesterces for the bird: a considerable sum. However, it seems that the owner of the garrulous bird had a partner, and apparently, he owned a Raven that, on cue, would utter: "Hail Anthony, the victorious commander". Unfortunately, for the second fellow, the bird trainer with the gelt refused to share his good fortune, whereupon the injured party let it be known that he owned a Raven whose utterance favoured Mark Anthony (no, not the singer). Octavian, instead of being angered by this deception, and instead of punishing the men, simply ordered the first man to share his good fortune with his erstwhile friend.

What does this story tell us concerning the emerging August? Could it show his remarkable restraint and generosity even after being fooled by clever rascals? Further, does it also illustrate Octavian's well-turned sense of humour? Well, when the 'purse' of the Empire is also your own private money, his magnanimity appears less impressive- mere pocket change, after all, for a man who owns a third of the known world. As for his sense of humour, it is well-attested. From other ancient sources, the first Emperor was a man of ready wit and no doubt imbued with a sophisticated art for repartee and badinage.       

The story has some of the hallmarks of fiction. A story too good to be true, perhaps? The story, as related, is derived from the works of an early 5th AD-century Roman named Macrobius in a tome called 'Saturnalia'. The work is presented in seven volumes, and our story appears in the second volume in a section concerned with Augustus' bon mots. Unfortunately, I have been unable to track down Macrobius' sources for this fascinating tale. Certainly, the two great writers of antiquity and of this period, Suetonius (born circa 69 AD) and Plutarch (born circa 46 AD), do not appear as citations. Therefore, it is difficult for me to comment as to regard the veracity of the story. Possibly one of my diligent readers, well versed in ancient history, will be able to throw some light on this most perplexing conundrum. Until then, I shall comment no more.            

Tuesday 16 January 2024

Caesar and the Pirates (Jim Lad)

'In this Caesar, I See Many a Marius'

O Julius Caesar: how can anyone give justice to this man in mere words. Also, as you may know, he was not just a man but a god. Tis plainly and clearly attested in Suetonius, read and weep:

 The deification of Caesar as recounted by Suetonius: 

“He died in the fifty-sixth year of his age, and was numbered among the gods, not only by a formal decree, but also in the conviction of the common people. For at the first of the games, which his heir Augustus gave in honour of his apotheosis, a comet shone for seven successive days, rising about the eleventh hour,​ and was believed to be the soul of Caesar, who had been taken to heaven; and this is why a star is set upon the crown of his head in his statue.”

Seems legit, and a poor boy from Tipton will not argue otherwise. After all, every man (patricians, only need to apply) in ancient Greece and Rome could become divine as willed by the reigning senate. Unless you were Caligula.  He did not bother to consult the counsels, Incitatus excepted. I'm veering off track.

Today's offering concerns an incident in young Caesar's (Gaius Julius Caesar) life when he was captured by Cilician pirates. The Aegean and Mediterranean seas were rife with pirates unfettered during this time. Indeed, the problem was an aged one, and Homer alludes to their presence in the Iliad. Rome seemed reluctant to use its vast resources to check these freebooters, perhaps because the pirates provided a host of cheap slaves destined for the Roman market. By 67 BC, the problem of piracy however, had become a nuisance of epic proportions. Not only were the pirates attacking vessels on the high seas but they had grown so numerous, wealthy and bold that they had the temerity to besiege and occupy a number of coastal cities. Thus, the Senate decreed that the power of piracy should be broken once and for all. The man of the moment was Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great), and he was granted unprecedented powers to deal with the problem. With his large fleet, Pompey swept the pirates from the seas within three months. It is said that 10,000 pirates were slain and 20,000 captured. True to his name, he magnanimously spared these men and settled them amongst towns along the Asian coast.

Back to the story in hand

In 75 BC, Caesar decided to further his rhetorical education by travelling to Rhodes. During the Sea journey, his vessel was seized by pirates. At the time of Caesars' capture in 75 BC the pirate problem was rampant, as usual. Generally, the pirates seized the vessels' goods and enslaved all on board. However, Caesar, as a Patrician, proved to be an exception. In such cases, a hefty ransom would be demanded. Once the ransom was received, the wealthy captive would be released. The pirates initially asked for 20 talents, not an inconsiderable sum. On hearing this, Caesar laughed and haughtily stated that a man of his station was worth 50 talents. The pirates readily/greedily agreed. Members of Caesar's entourage set off to various places in Asia to raise the money. Caesar was left with a friend and two attendants who joined him in captivity in the pirate's lair. During his stay, Caesar acted as if he was in the ascendant. The pirates were asked to be quiet when Caesar wanted to rest. He would regale his captives with his own Elegiac and lambic poetry, and when their praise was scant, he would berate them and call them illiterate barbarians. Indeed, 'Pirate School' hardly taught such dainty fancies and was firmly concerned with such topics as epaulette cleaning and maintenance following all day parrot presence, how to screw on your wooden leg and how to vocalise, arrrrrrrr(se).    

Caesars' demeanour was generally imperious (how appropriate) and overbearing. He would join in the piratical games and would jokingly threaten the pirates with crucifixion when released. After 38 days, the money was raised, and true to their piratical code of honour, Caesar and his companions were released. Caesar quickly raised a fleet, at Miletus and left for the pirate den. He captured most of them and all their spoils, including his ransom. He imprisoned the pirates at Pergamon and hurried off to see the governor of Asia, Marcus Junius, in order to seek permission to punish the pirates. However, crafty old Junius stated that he needed more time to review the case. Caesar was not a patient man, and after several rebuttals, he decided to act with celerity, a characteristic that would come to define him in his later years. He hurried back to Pergamon, and as promised, he ordered the pirates to be crucified. Apparently, Caesar had a sentimental streak as each pirate had his throat cut prior to crucifixion- thus, they were spared the prolonged agonies of the cross.     

The above is an interpretation of the episode as related by Plutarch in his work, 'Lives'.

I'd like to finish off by saying a little about what the episode tells us about the man himself. Caesar is a difficult subject for many reasons, and I will quickly mention one of the problems here; there are others. Also, I will not be embarking on any form of deep character analysis, whatever that might mean. I will be writing about Caesar again- he is such a fascinating character; how can I resist. A character that changed the course of Western civilisation and, indeed, still influences our lives to this day.

Caesar wrote voluminously, and through quirks of history, we are privileged to possess many of his works. Apparently, Caesar chose to write a simple, lucid and compact style of Latin. His works are unadorned by literary pretense and affectation.

A problem we have when addressing Plutarch's' narrative of the 'Piratical Episode' is that it is based on Caesar's own account. Few of us like to put forth our 'missteps' or mistakes, especially in writing. In the account of the episode, we view Caesar as the ideal conception, or at least to Roman sensibilities, of a man in the mold of the 'Perfect Roman Man', at least of a certain type. It is an idealisation that is impossible to fulfil in reality, but regardless, here is Caesar in all his perfect majesty: a man of wit, humour, full of aristocratic verve/reserve and disdain. Where can we find such a man today? The answer is that he does not exist and, in fact, never has. Nevertheless, there are certain speculative conclusions that can be suggested.

There is no doubt that we are dealing with a highly intelligent and educated man of his time. I've already mentioned Caesar's ability for rapid decisions and action. His celebrated 'celerity' bordered on rashness, as evidenced in future events. By the way, he shared this trait with his hero, 'Alexander the Great'. A man he certainly identified with and emulated. In this instance, he went against the governor of Asia. Caesar, at this time, could not afford to accrue enemies. He already had enough in Rome. It shows a breathtaking degree of arrogance and an overweening confidence in his own ability. And finally, it hints at things to come and points to the insane degree of ambition that drove this remarkable and 'Great Man'.  

Old Shakespeare had a way with words:

"Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves."

Cassius (Act 1, Scene 2)

Thursday 4 January 2024

A Small Interlude

Belated Happy New Year to all who enter here.
You know who you are.


My Hero

I started this post about three months ago, but for a reason that remains inexplicable, I left it hanging, orphaned in temporal limbo. Today, I became reacquainted with my past musings and, on a whim, decided to complete this post.   

Today, I was out and about in town enjoying a sunny New Zealand spring day. Indeed, the temperature is predicted to hit 19 deg. The forthcoming summer is expected to be dry and hot. Generally, the winters in this part of New Zealand are wet, very wet. Thus, the land gets a good soaking that is conducive for the growing of stuff and especially for grape trees (don't ask). Martinborough, which resides in the Wairarapa district, is renowned, due to a fortuitous combination of factors, for the production of a range of fine wines. I'm starting to regress.

As said, I was out and about, but I was not alone; on this occasion, I was supported and abetted on this excursion by the lovely Mrs. Saxon. Normally I eschew the pleasure of shopping with 'da missus' for reasons that many married men will find only too familiar. Mrs. Saxon's style of shopping is distinctive and eminently frustrating; thus, she picks stuff up and regards it with a penetrating beam of diligence before putting it down. And so, the cycle repeats interminably. A shopping 'outing', which would normally last an hour, for normal folk, lasts all day. Please feel my pain. However, on this particular day, I had a get-out clause. Later in the day, I was scheduled to take my mother for a medical appointment at the nearby hospital. Thus, my time of intensive shopping was severely restricted- mayhap there is a god after all, and he is male.

Being of a magnanimous nature and feeling benevolent at the prospect of a severely curtailed shopping extravaganza, I decided that I would take my wife for cake and coffee. As I approached the establishment of 'Comestible Heaven/Haven', I espied a severe injunction upon said establishment's wall, inscribed in thick felt tip pen. It stated boldly: 'DO NOT FEED THE FEATHERED BRETHREN'.  And whilst I pondered the unusual prose, a small fantail alighted upon my broad, manly shoulders; thereafter, the cheeky critter (for it is none other) flitted and sat defiantly just within the cafĂ© environs. The fantail regarded the Flaxen-haired one with baleful yellow eyes and cocked his/her head to the side before delivering a goodly shit. On expending his/her/them wad, the bird got to the business of garnering lost crumbs and crusts. It wasn't long before the staff noticed the freeloader and began the tiring and fruitless task of removing da bird. To be honest, from my perspective, they were on the losing side. Every attempt to shoo the bird from the establishment was met with utter disdain from our feathered friend as it hopped from floor to rafter and back again. The usurper was not inconvenienced at all and continued to feed throughout. Of course, the gaping open door the staff hoped the bird would bugger off through merely acted as a 'Beacon/ Bacon of Hope' (there was a piece of bacon on the floor). What a great example of animal adaptation, and I could not resist rewarding the cheeky interloper with a chunk of cake, much to the chagrin of the wait staff. 

The Moral of the Story:

Leave unto the fantails what belongs to the fantails. And do not shop with Mrs. Saxon.