Showing posts with label BCE. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BCE. Show all posts


NaPoWriMo - 2017 - April 25th - Antikythera and other mechanisms

Not really following any prompt here, except there was a prompt about "space" which prompted me (sic) to look through my notes for various terms and something I saw there reminded me I intended to write this.

This was all written in two sessions today, with minimal editing, so it's a bit "first draft" please forgive any built-in insanities.

I have used few Greek names and terms, not many.  I initially tried to get authentic ancient words but in the end decided the main thing I needed was two broadly suitable names.

The Antikythera Mechanism is this.  There is a theory that the ship that was wrecked may have been carrying loot from Rhodes to Rome for use in a triumphal parade staged by Julius Caesar.  I tried matching up the dates to see if that works.  It isn't clear it does, but I've incorporated that into the set-up anyway :-)  I've arbitrarily picked the time when Julius was a consul, there's no actual reason to think this true but I had to give him some title...

I do not speak Greek, especially not ancient Greek, so I have no reason to show off with it.  If I did I might have used some epigram such as:

Είναι εύκολο να ακούγεται έξυπνος σε ξένες γλώσσες

(thank you Google Translate).  Obviously I would never do that...

Antikythera, and other mechanisms

Captain Τιμόν(*) views the device

Caesar has ordered strictly, that no one turns
the handle
the technikós(***) Αλέκος(**)
staggers slightly in the swell, his hand upon
the opened cratenobody is to see
events from future time laid out.  The Gods
alone know this by right and the consul shows
due deference and decrees that no-one use
this thing save him.
  Much later when the man
was drunk, the whole crew heard him often boast
he had no choice but frequently to wind
the dials back to a century before
his birth and forward again up to today.
He claimed this as the only way to see
the mechanism hadn't suffered hurt.

(*-Timon; **-Alekos; ***-technician, modern Greek, I needed a plausibly old term but I also needed to imply the modern meaning, so this is a compromise...)

Αλέκος explains the dials

Upon this side are those things of the Earth:
above, progression of the months and years
laid out in spiral form, and more than that:
the festivals and Games at Athens,
Olympia and Rhodes.  Now lower down
another spiral shows eclipses: Sun
and Moon; dancing in the sky.  I'll turn
it round.  This side is for the heavens,
Gods, their wanderings across the night.

The Moon, its place in things, the dark and bright
phases, the motion of the Sun, through houses
of the Zodiac, and far beyond it all

fixed constellations rise and fall, throughout the year.

The sea captain's dream

Captain Τιμόν rests uneasy, his salt
and water blood uncalm, the mechanism
in his hold offers no direct harm, but a man
who's watched the heavens forty years can't
sleep comfortable with ideas of gears
outside the sky.  The calendars that form
his life are woven from much softer things
the winds round certain islands, his son, his wife
and festivals that come because the town
gather; not because some metal pointer pins
them to a dial.  He turns in bed, uneasy.

Part of him knows the wind has changed;
within his dream the same unease: islands that move,
brass spins beneath the waves, a giant hand winding...


The wind has changed.  The sea grows mad.  The captain
invokes Poseidon beneath his breath and grabs
the steering oar himself.  Beneath the deck
the oarsmen also pray, but Αλέκος
turns from the raging sea and guards instead
the precious crate.  Even technicians pray
but to what spirits, Gods or fates he's kept
his peace
part of the artisan's secrets
but whatever powers they are fail him.  Down
come the sails, and the oarsmen struggle more.  The lea
of any shore might save their skins. 
tries first for Kythira but as fear grows
turns instead for tiny Aigila(*).  He knows
he's got there only when they hit the rocks.

(* transliteration of ancient name of Antikythera)

The technician's dream

Αλέκος sleeps so soundly when they pull
him from the sea, that all believe he'll die.
They try to keep him warm, burn sage leaves, ply
the fates with secret gestures, muttered words
they've heard the shepherds using for sick lambs.

This is no sheep, nor yet a man: technikós
who holds construction in his hands.  So deep
his charge has drowned, in sleep it takes him down

and he sees, unsurprised, a new dial: sea level
clearly marked.  The needle turns as all grows dark
around it.  In his heightened state he notices
also for the first time another gauge
"πολιτισμός", now well into decline.
He wonders for how long the dark will last,

when everything he knows has passed, how long
before technicians once again will build
machines to map the heavens?  How long until
they pull a lump of metal from the waves?

(* "πολιτισμός" - politismos: civilisation, modern Greek again...)


NaPoWriNo - 2017 - April 19th - The mythical creation myth

The prompt was to retell a creation myth.

First time I've used "wang" or "tits" in a poem, but then your typical creation myth is going to get a bit earthy...

The mythical creation myth

They say they say the universe begins
in fire, of all things; massive growth in white hot
techno-commercial foment or else some moment
of some old godhead cutting off some other
old god’s bits. The sky-father’s wang. The earth-mother’s
tits. The separation of the light and dark, water
and land, the casual combining of whatever
elements might come to hand into first life.

First life, first light, first thought… first criticism
the creation-creator held up for inspection
and to account. Is this the only way
the World can be? Is there enough infinity
or family values? Is the climate wrong
in late September? Has the climate model
come undone, dropping her pointer and spilling one boob
in front of the green-screen projection

of the home counties. What country is our home
in the world we less than intentionally create.
Do not pause at the gate but hit the commuter train
on time. Newspaper tucked firmly beneath
your Sure for men armpit and daily in it
the word-smiths push their
sempiternal spin
there is such detail still
needs construction
for the creation story that never ends.


In the British Museum

Earlier this year Rosemary and I travelled to the mythical city of London, to meet up with a dozen or so other poets, all inhabitants of Poets' Graves.  The initial meeting (where we exchanged code-words and established our Poetical Power by duelling with variably-rhymed couplets) was set for Friday evening.  So we travelled down on the Friday morning and spent the afternoon in the British Museum.

There is, very nearly, no better way to spend a Friday afternoon.

I try never to judge, especially in poems, so I am attempting here to deliver the whole mixed nature of the experience.  You should get touches of the vastness of time, embarrassment at one's ancestors cultural arrogance, watching other visitors, watching guards, browsing the gift shop, and even standing in awe before the certain exhibits.  I also firmly believe that even with its oddities, failings and unintended humour, the entire enterprise is magnificent and I sincerely hope they continue adding to it for centuries to come.

On a administrative note, let me take this opportunity to drop my blogging frequency to merely fortnightly.  Let there be no rumours that I am running out of poems!  At a quick count there's about 600 lurking in the pile and I'd imagine at least 25% would be bloggable.  It's more a matter of time and not wanting to rush the postings out.

However, enough of that.  Forward into the museum!

In the British Museum 

The Painter of London B76

Named for a water jug
this Athenian black-figure vase-painter
is anonymous.  Nonetheless consistent,
his character and style suggest
unique artistic personality
in five hundred B.C.

The cat statue that can't be seen...

...we did not see.  The gallery is closed
and possibly the King's New Statuette
is not so much to write home about? 

Chinese wheelchair woman asleep in gift shop

Wait here they said, in fluent Mandarin,
we just must see the big Assyrian beards. 

Roman copies of Greek philosophers

Let us fantasize,
that these once formed a popular Roman
philosophy exhibit.  Let's see the faces
behind the ideas, the slave recites,
two hundred times a day, and whips
aside the curtain. 

Please do not touch the objects

Some interpretation is required...

Door handles, toilet seats, mugs and plates
in the café, and books and pens, key rings
and more mugs in the gift shop--
are not "objects"

but Rosetta stones, guards, other visitors,
the fire alarms, Ashurbanipal--
those probably are. 

This object is currently on loan

Please move along calmly, gentle visitor,
the item normally itemized by the label--
neatly printed dates and names and just
enough description to pique your interest
--is not here. 

On knowing and having known...

As a reward
for guarding Room 13 for seven years,
Myra sees perfection.  After directing
a third old lady to the loos, she flexes
feet inside her shoes, and as she turns,
there it is laid casually in a glass case.
She takes a moment and makes
a mental note, that if a visitor
should ever ask after the ineffable,
sublime, or perfect, why?
This is where it is. 

A sky made from geometry

There is a world beyond this, hard
as it may be to understand, in fact
a Universe.  What other planets lie
beyond the sky, and in archaeology departments
across the land, what fervent plans
and star maps trouble minds
more commonly obsessed
with their next TV appearance?

There must be more!  More carvings; more loom weights;
more votive bowls and carved inscriptions,
ritual objects, tablets of all descriptions, knives,
death masks and tomb goods, weapons, bones and stones,
eating utensils, bas relief huntsmen
and local bureaucrat accounts dating
--it is believed--to the Early Consumerist era.

What is the British Museum for,
if not the Universe?

What is the Universe for,
if not the British Museum?



Breakfast milk, earlier today.
This poem came from its epigram, a Kurt Vonnegut line that struck me while I was reading Slaughterhouse-Five.  If you've not read Kurt I recommend him.  He's a SF author, but also very much about everyday life; philosophical without being full of himself.

If he has a flaw it's that he's a little too aware of trying for an 'everyman' quality, of making his characters all John Q Public, but you have to respect his trying.

Anyway, as I only took the one line, and then completely reinterpreted it, you won't find a lot of him in this.

BCE, of course, stands for "Before the Common Era", which is what archaeologists now say in an attempt to remove the built-in cultural bias of "BC".  Personally I prefer MYA (Million Years Ago) but that's for dinosaurs.


Everybody is supposed to be dead,
to never say anything or want anything ever again.

—Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Time happened so long ago.
The milkman's note is deep carved
dead-language, symbolic, on the door frame.

Evidence for breakfast can be sifted
from the archaeological layer:
people ate toasted grains, bread,
fruit preserved in storage jars.

They may have wanted extra pints
which the milkman didn't leave.

If I still spoke that language
I would pull a message from the potsherds,
write a learned paper, a coffee table book,
show how civilisation faltered
a voice was raised
a door was slammed...

It was all over long ago—
I make notes with some detachment.