Sunday, September 15, 2019

The last days of a civilization.

I want to take one more look back at our fabulous cruise -- not just because I have a lot of pictures (sooo many pictures) but also because I've been thinking this week about what happens to a civilization when its big ideas are just about played out.

As I said last week, a number of cultures are overlaid on one another in the Mediterranean, owing to successive waves of battles, invasions, and cultural assimilations. Eventually the vast majority of the area around the Mediterranean Sea -- as well as a good-sized chunk of Europe -- was part of the Roman Empire. Rome struggled to keep it all under control; in 285 CE Diocletian split it into the Eastern and Western Roman Empires.

The Romans who lived in Pompeii and Herculaneum at the time of their destruction by volcano in 79 CE were undoubtedly pagan. Herculaneum was named for Hercules -- he created it, according to myth -- and archaeologists have unearthed temples and mosaics of the Roman gods at both cities. In Herculaneum, this fresco depicts Hercules with Rome's three most important gods: Minerva, Juno, and Jupiter (he's the rainbow in the background). Above and to either side are depictions of the goddess Nike in her chariot.
Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019
Ephesus, Turkey, was in the Eastern Roman Empire. It was partly destroyed by an earthquake in 614 CE -- but hundreds of years earlier, it was a base of operations for St. Paul. Our tour guide told us that in 56 CE or so, Paul preached in this amphitheater, which sat 25,000 people (and is used as a concert venue again today).
Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019
She went on to tell us that the local merchants got together and had St. Paul thrown in jail -- not because they were particularly faithful to the old gods, but because they had a good business selling statues of Artemis and Paul was ruining their livelihood. (The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. There's virtually nothing left of it today.)

Here's the thing that struck me: All this beauty, all these colossal monuments, were built before Christianity. The Romans, and the Greeks before them, created beautiful art and monumental buildings. They developed philosophy and poetry. Western government is based on Rome's. The ancient world didn't need Christianity to come up with any of those things. So why did this new religion of Paul's get any traction at all?

Big thinkers have ruminated on this for centuries. My take is this: By the time Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the empire in 317 CE, Rome's heyday was nearly over. It rolled on for another hundred years or so in the West, until 476 CE. (The Eastern part morphed into the Byzantine Empire.) Well before then, corruption had crept into Roman government, and society was stratified, with regular folks having little chance to improve their lot in life. Jesus gave them a way to fight back against a civilization that treated them like chaff.

So Christianity flourished -- and then its flaws became apparent. The Romans in particular were tolerant of other religions; Christianity was not. And thus came the Inquisition and the Dark Ages and all the rest.

Some Christians escaped the religious strife in Europe to come to America. But when they got here, they enacted their own religious intolerance. So we had Christians accusing women of witchcraft in Salem, and justifying slavery with Bible verses, and using Manifest Destiny to support their treatment of Native Americans -- who, by the way, were not savages at all.
And now, here we are, at what feels like the end of an era. To be fair, Western civilization has made great strides in the centuries since Rome fell: in the arts, sciences, and technology. But today our society is stratified into a tiny number of haves and a huge percentage of have-nots. Our government is corrupt, with a tiny percentage of old white men holding onto power any way they can. And certain influential Christians support them.

Christianity got a toehold when Roman society began to break down. You've gotta wonder what will follow Western democracy when it crumbles to dust.

Sources:; and our tour guides.

These bloggy musings have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Cruise Year, Vol. 2, or: What I did on my summer vacation.

A couple of weeks ago, Kitty, Amy and I got on a cruise ship in Rome and got off about nine days later in Venice. In between, we toured a bunch of places. Some had been on my second-string bucket list (Rome! Venice! Greek islands!) and some had never been near any iteration of my bucket list (Turkey and Croatia). All of it turned out to be cool, and sometimes better than I'd expected. For instance, I was tickled to discover that some of the things we saw -- for lack of a better word -- rhymed.

Having never been to that part of the world before, I was struck by the way the cultures of so many countries on the Mediterranean Sea have intertwined. A lot of it is due to the spoils of war; the Greeks, the Romans, the Venetians, and the Ottoman Turks fought for control of the region for hundreds, even thousands of years, and so there's a certain amount of homogenization among the ancient sites. The mosaic floors at Pompeii in Italy, for instance, look a lot like the mosaic floors in the terrace houses at Ephesus in Turkey. And the frescoes adorning the walls of those Ephesian terrace houses look a lot like a wall I spotted in Museo Correr on the Piazza San Marco in Venice. Here, take a look:

Mosaic floor in Pompeii

Mosaic floor and frescoes in a terrace house in Ephesus

Wall - Museo Correr, Venice
I'm not sure, actually, whether that wall in Venice isn't a later-period homage to ancient Roman styles. Certainly artistic techniques go in and out of style -- like, say, black-on-black pottery. The ancient Etruscans made it, and so do potters from the San Ildefonso Pueblo here in the United States.

Etruscan pottery at the Museo Correr

Maria & Julian Martinez wedding vase | Wikimedia Commons |
CC 1.0

I could go on -- we saw so many wondrous places that I'm already forgetting some of the cool stuff we learned -- but I'll stop for now, if only to get some sleep.

These moments of bloggy comparative arts have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. (All photos in this post: Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019, unless noted otherwise.)

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Gone cruisin'.

Yup, I'm on vacation this week. Come on back next Sunday and I'll show you where I've been.

These moments of out-of-office blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. (Click my name to find some stuff to read while I'm away.)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Molten Trail: It's just one smoking hot crater after another.

Last week I sorta kinda promised you guys a sneak peek at Molten Trail, so here it is.

If you've read the first two Elemental Keys books, you'll know that our Elemental heroes -- Raney, Collum, Rufus, and Gail -- are chasing after Raney's father to find various Keys to a door that will unleash the Earth's destruction. They've already been to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where the Water Key was hidden, and to County Kilkenny, Ireland, where the Earth Key was kept. Book 3 takes them to the Big Island of Hawaii for the Fire Key. Fire is Rufus's Element, so he's pretty excited about it all.

One of the joys of writing this series is that I get to use places I've been as backdrops. So of course the gang stays near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which I visited in 2010. Here's a photo I took of the smokin' hot crater Rufus is so excited to see. The landscape is different now, though, after Kilauea's eruption earlier this year, and that's part of the story in Molten Trail, too.

Anyway. The photo, with the excerpt below it:

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2010
Gail sprang for our lodgings. I think she saw my face when I paid for the business class airline tickets. Or maybe it was when I suggested we stay in a hostel near the national park. Anyway, she went online and booked a place, and then told us about it.

“You didn’t need to do that,” I’d said.

“Look, Raney,” she said. “I may be on a fixed income, but you’re unemployed. Let someone else do the heavy lifting for this trip. Okay?”

“Okay,” I said. Secretly, though, I was relieved.

So anyway, what we got were rooms in a renovated historic hotel just inside the boundary of Volcanoes National Park. The dining room overlooked the smoking hot Halema’uma’u Crater – and when I say smoking hot, I mean the crater was actually smoking.

Rufus was beside himself. His room overlooked the crater, too. “I’ve never been this close to a volcano before,” he said, beaming. “This is awesome!” He dropped his stuff in his room and immediately ran outside to goggle at the blasted landscape.

“Don’t get so close that your shoes melt,” Gail called after him. Then she shook her head in amusement. “He’s like a big kid.”

“That’s our Madman,” Collum said. He’d regained what equilibrium he’d lost on the flight over, and now looked like the fierce mountain gnome I’d grown to love.

We had some time before lunch, so we dragged a reluctant Rufus away from his contemplation of the crater and trekked over to the visitor center. There I found an arresting sight of my own: a painting of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes.

“That’s her home out there,” Rufus said, startling me. He pointed out the windows behind us.

“What, the crater?”

“Yep. According to Hawaiian mythology, Kilauea is where she lives.”

I turned my gaze to the blasted landscape, and back to him. “Has She spoken to you?”

“Not so far. But there’s time.” He grinned at me.

“Hey, where do your relatives live, anyway? You never said.”

“Not here,” he said with a laugh. “They’re all up on the North Shore of Oahu. And before you ask, they’re not Elementals.”

“Are they Native Hawaiians?”

“Nope. As far as I know, they’re haole, like all of us.” He twirled a finger to include me and the other team members. “That branch of the family came here in the ‘60s for the surfing and never left.”

“Sounds like the sort of people you’d be related to,” I said with a smirk.

“Yep, we’re all lazy jerks,” he replied cheerfully. “But seriously, I think that’s why my mother didn’t keep in touch with them. They were a little too counter-culture for her taste.”

“Gotcha. So you’re Elemental on your dad’s side?”

“Exactly. We’re Pennsylvania coal miners from way back. Fire is a great talent to have for that – setting charges to blow new seams open and that kind of thing.” His gaze drifted to the window. “Volcanoes are several magnitudes greater, though. This is real, raw firepower.” He focused on me again. “Hey, let’s get going. I’d like to get out into the park. There’s a road that circles the crater – we should have time to do that before lunch.”

“You’re kidding,” Gail said as she joined us. “Rufus, putting off a meal? Are you feeling okay?”

“He’s jonesing for Pele,” Collum said.

“You guys are all assholes. You know that?” Rufus said, but he was smiling. “Come on, let’s go. I’ll drive.”
Pele, Goddess of Fire by Herb Kawainui Kane
Photo copyright 2010 Lynne Cantwell
Speaking of traveling, I'll be on vacation next week. Enjoy your Labor Day! See you in September.

These moments of lava-like blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.