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In the great city of Isfahan lived Ahmed the cobbler, an honest fellow whose sole wish was to to pass through life quietly; and he might have done so but for his wife who hated to accept the lowliness of his profession. Noor was her name. She was ever forming foolish schemes of riches and grandeur to which her husband would indulgently smile and change her subject.
It happened one evening she came home all in a fluster and she told her husband meeting the wife of the chief astrologer to the king. “What a magnificent dress! And jewellery, oh my eyes were dazzled!” Ahmad smiled and let it pass. Oh no for the next three days and nights she dinned into his head that he was no good. “If you care for me, you will stop this nonsense!” “What nonsense dear?’ “This cobbling! It is so humiliating, O husband of mine.” “But it feeds us and keeps a roof over our heads. It is my livelihood.” Ahmad could not believe his ears.
He hoped she would change the subject. Oh no! She was in no mood to give it as a hopeless case.
She wanted him to take up astrology. “But I am old and too set in my ways to learn a new trade. Astrology will be the death of me!” At the end of a month he almost plucked his beard out in frustration. “The moment he saw the moon he put an ice pack on his head and said, “My head is spinning! The moon phase has entered into the House of Saturn!” He pretended to talk gibberish but she thought he was an astrologer speaking such words as any astrologer would be proud of. “You see, how simple it is? You are an astrologer Only you never realized.” He groaned inwards and beat his head against the wall in frustration. He felt sick. For a week he stayed in bed afraid to look up. The most dreadful event of the day was when his wife having served tea in bed, would point to some charts horoscopes drawn or an almanac almost crumbling which she had collected from the neighbourhood. Whenever she came he would say, “Go away, signs are bad. Inauspicious to say the least.”
At the end of the week a group of his friends descended on him. They had heard what his wife was telling to all and sundry in the neighbourhood. They said, “Your wife is right! Give over cobbling; it is a vile, low trade, and never yields more than ten or twelve dinars a day. You are born astrologer!”
“No I am not!” said Ahmad with his last ounce of energy.
The Imam who was rather fond of him said, “Ahmad you are too modest”. The baker who allowed him credit was sure he should give up tools of his trade. “Never sell your talents short, Ahmad. An Astrologer counts gold every night.” His wife would snort and say, “Tell him, by the Word of the Merciful Prophet, he had done enough counting blisters on his fingers to last a life time.”
Poor Ahmad! No one would believe him. Next day he rose up early and went out. Having sold his little stock, bought an astrolabe, an astronomical almanac, and a table of the twelve signs of the zodiac. Furnished with these he went to the marketplace, crying, “I am an astrologer! I know the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and the twelve signs of the zodiac; I can calculate nativities; I can foretell everything that is to happen!”
It so happened that the king’s jeweller was passing by. He was in great distress, having lost the richest ruby belonging to the crown. Every search had been made to recover this inestimable jewel, but to no purpose; and the date of delivering the ruby in its new setting was almost due. He had no way of talking his way out without the ruby. In this hopeless state, while wandering about the town, he reached the crowd around Ahmed and asked what was the matter. “Don’t you know Ahmed the cobbler?” said one of the bystanders, laughing; “he has been inspired, and is become an astrologer.”
Somewhat buoyed up at the news he went directly to Ahmad. The cobbler astrologer was almost trying to make himself scarce but the King’s jeweller held out a purse of 100 pieces of gold in advance and promised the other hundred on delivery of the lost ruby. “But if you do not succeed within six hours, I will use all my influence at court to have you put to death as an impostor.” Without a word he walked off.
Poor Ahmed just quaked. But he could not retreat; nor had he the least idea where to begin. He opened the almanac and blindly thrust his finger on a sheet. He looked where it had pointed. “Home.” He burst out laughing like a mad man. Home was where all his misery began and he inwardly cursed his wife for putting his neck into gallows. He saw a woman in veil running as though avoiding a thunderbolt. He said, “It is a sign. I have a clue to begin with.” He hurried his steps after her. Most was amazement to see her going into the Jewellers’ house.
She was indeed the slave to the wife of the Jeweller’s wife. Breathless with fear she cried, “You are discovered, my dear mistress, you are found out by a vile astrologer. Before six hours are past the whole story will be known, and you will be branded as a thief.”
The jeweller’s wife, hastily throwing on her veil, went in search of the dreaded astrologer. In fact he was heading towards her. On seeing she threw herself at his feet, crying, “Spare my honour and my life, and I will confess everything!” “What can you have to confess to me?” exclaimed Ahmed in amazement.
“Oh, nothing! nothing that you are not already aware of!” She cried and said, “You know too well by your art hat I stole the ruby from the king’s crown. I did so to punish my husband, who uses me most cruelly; But you, the astrologer from whom nothing is hidden. I beg only for mercy, and will return the ruby. From inside her street clothes she handed the ruby and said, “Here take it.”
Later at night at home ,-two hundred pieces of gold pieces made Noor very happy. Instantly she arranged to list all the shakers and movers of the city whose fortunes could be made by consulting a chart prepared by Her Astrologer husband. She was sure to insist that he charged a piece of gold towards the trouble he had to read the horoscope. “ One piece of gold?” Ahmad was stunned. “A family of two can live with ease one whole year. Let us not ask for the moon, of moon of my dreams.” He said. She laughed him to scorn, “It is nothing compared to what you shall demand for satisfaction. Ten percent of the sum involved I shall consider worthwhile.” Ahmad simply sighed. She was becoming impossible.
Next day ten attendants from the palace arrived. Bowing they said the Sultan wanted to consult him straightaway. Sweating and fearing for his neck he accompanied them. The sultan went straight to the point, “Here are two horoscopes. One is mine and the other is that of the king of Samarkhand. Compare the two and tell me the truth. Future of Persia depends entirely on you. You are, as reported to me, the most inspired astrologer. I shall not forget you if you should give me satisfaction.”
Ahmad thought his whole world would come crashing on him if he made a single error. He took the horoscopes of both kings and wanted a quiet hour to study them. Immediately he was guided to a saloon on the palace grounds. Dismissing all he threw himself on the divan and he collapsed. He saw a dream. It was terrible. In his mind’s eye he thought he was kneeling with his head on the chopping block. And horrible, oh horrible the sultan’s executioner was sharpening his axe.
Poor Ahmad. He got up and began walking in circles.
Suddenly he found a way out. He walked back to the palace and sought audience with his royal master. He said after bowing deeply that he was ready with his results. The sultan called him privately to another room and asked what was his opinion. He said, “If I tell the truth my royal master will die of black-death; That certainly would bring the King of Samarkhand to the gates of the city. If I tell a lie, the King of Samarkhand shall certainly die and also your son who is even standing next in line.
The sultan digested this piece of news and asked, “Is there a way to prevent any of these from happening, Most Illustrious Astrologer?” Ahmad watched from corner of his eye and saw the Sultan had accepted his decision as predestined from the Lord of three worlds. “No master”
“So be it” said the sultan. “Is there any favour you wish me to do in return?” He bowed and said, “Please issue a royal decree so I need never practice astrology.”
The sultan was somewhat taken aback but he accepted his decision. He duly presented him with a Deed of Exemption. Since then he never glanced at a horoscope let alone draw one. For once his wife Noor had not a word to say for or against it.
(Selected from the Wow-Wow Tales by Q-BITZ)
Benny

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II. The first thing to be noted in describing Nikias is the saying of
Aristotle, that there had been in Athens three citizens of great
ability and patriotism, namely, Nikias, the son of Nikeratus,
Thucydides, the son of Melesias, and Theramenes, the son of Hagnon;
though the latter was not equal to the two former, but was reproached
with being a foreigner from the island of Keos; and, also, because he
was not a stable politician but always inclined to change sides, he
was nicknamed Kothornos, which means a large boot which will fit
either leg. Of these three statesmen the eldest was Thucydides, who
was the leader of the conservative opposition to Perikles; while
Nikias, who was a younger man, rose to a certain eminence during the
life of Perikles, as he acted as his colleague in the command of a
military force, and also filled the office of archon. On the death of
Perikles, Nikias at once became the foremost man in Athens, chiefly by
the favour of the rich and noble, who wished to make use of him to
check the plebeian insolence of Kleon; yet Nikias had the good-will
of the common people, and they were eager to further his interests,
Kleon, indeed, became very powerful by caressing the people and giving
them opportunities for earning money from the State, but in spite of
this, many of the lower classes whose favour he especially strove to
obtain, became disgusted with, his greed and insolence, and preferred
to attach themselves to Nikias. Indeed, there was nothing harsh or
overbearing in the pride of Nikias, which arose chiefly from his fear
of being thought to be currying favour with the people. By nature he
was downhearted and prone to despair, but in war these qualities were
concealed by his invariable success in whatever enterprise he
undertook; while in political life his retiring manner and his dread
of the vulgar demagogues, by whom he was easily put out of
countenance, added to his popularity;…

III. Perikles, indeed, used to govern Athens by sheer force of
character and eloquence, and required no tricks of manner or plausible
speeches to gain him credit with the populace; but Nikias had no
natural gifts of this sort, and owed his position merely to his
wealth. As he could not vie with Kleon in the versatile and humorous
power of speech by which the latter swayed the Athenian masses, he
endeavoured to gain the favour of the people by supplying choruses for
the public dramatic performances and instituting athletic sports on a
scale of lavish expenditure which never before had been equalled by
any citizen….

It is said that once during the performance of a play at his expense,
a slave of his appeared upon the stage habited as Dionysus; a tall and
handsome youth, and still beardless. The Athenians were charmed with
his appearance, and applauded for a long time, at the end of which
Nikias rose and said that he did not think it right that one whose
body was thus consecrated to a god should be a slave; and consequently
he gave him his freedom. Tradition also tells us how magnificently and
decorously he arranged the procession at Delos….

IV. These acts of Nikias may have been prompted by ambition and desire
for display, but when viewed in connection with his superstitious
character they seem more probably to have been the outcome of his
devotional feelings; for we are told by Thucydides that he was one who
stood greatly in awe of the gods, and was wholly devoted to religion.
In one of the dialogues of Pasiphon, we read that he offered sacrifice
daily, and that he kept a soothsayer in his house, whom he pretended
to consult upon affairs of state, but really sought his advice about
his own private concerns, especially about his silver mines. He had
extensive mines at Laurium, the working of which afforded him very
large profits, but yet was attended with great risks. He maintained a
large body of slaves at the works; and most of his property consisted
of the silver produced by them. For this reason he was surrounded by
hangers-on, and persons who endeavoured to obtain a share of his
wealth, and he gave money to all alike, both to those who might do him
harm, and to those who really deserved his liberality, for he gave to
bad men through fear, and to good men through good nature. We may find
proof of this in the writings of the comic poets. Telekleides,
speaking of some informer, says:

“Charikles a mina gave him, fearing he might say
Charikles himself was born in a suspicious way;
And Nikias five minas gave. Now, what his reasons were
I know full well, but will not tell, for he’s a trusty fere.”

Eupolis, too, in his comedy of Marikas has a scene where an informer
meets with a poor man who is no politician, and says:

“A. Say where you last with Nikias did meet.
B. Never. Save once I saw him in the street.
A. He owns he saw him. Wherefore should he say
He saw him, if he meant not to betray
His crimes?
C. My friends, you all perceive the fact,
That Nikias is taken in the act.
B. Think you, O fools, that such a man as he
In any wicked act would taken be.”

Just so does Kleon threaten him in Aristophanes’s play:

“The orators I’ll silence, and make Nikias afraid.”

Phrynichus, too, sneers at his cowardice and fear of the popular
demagogues, when he says:

“An honest citizen indeed he was,
And not a coward like to Nikias.”

V. Nikias feared so much to give the mob orators grounds for
accusation against him, that he dared not so much as dine with his
follow citizens, and pass his time in their society. Nor did he have
any leisure at all for such amusements, but when general, he used to
spend the whole day in the War office, and when the Senate met he
would be the first to come to the house and the last to leave it. When
there was no public business to be transacted, he was hard to meet
with, as he shut himself up in his house and seldom stirred abroad.
His friends used to tell those who came to his door that they must
pardon him for not receiving them, as he was not at leisure, being
engaged on public business of great importance. One Hieron, whom he
had brought up in his house and educated, assisted him greatly in
throwing this air of mystery and haughty exclusiveness over his life.
This man gave out that he was the son of Dionysius, called Chalkus,
whose poems are still extant, and who was the leader of the expedition
to Italy to found the city of Thurii. Hiero used to keep Nikias
supplied with prophetic responses from the soothsayers, and gave out
to the Athenians that Nikias was toiling night and day on their
behalf, saying that when he was in his bath or at his dinner he was
constantly being interrupted by some important public business or
other, so that, said he, “His night’s rest is broken by his labours,
and his private affairs are neglected through his devotion to those of
the public. He has injured his health, and besides losing his fortune,
has been deserted by many of his friends on account of his not being
able to entertain them and make himself agreeable to them; while other
men find in politics a means of obtaining both friends and fortune, at
the expense of the state.” In very truth the life of Nikias was such
that he might well apply to himself the words of Agamemnon.

“In outward show and stately pomp all others I exceed,
And yet the people’s underling I am in very deed.”
(Ack:The Project Gutenberg EBook of Plutarch’s Lives Volume III., by Plutarch)

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“Over the past year I’ve learned

Some ends don’t have endings.

Some empty space will never be filled.

Sometimes your hands intertwine perfectly,

But your minds just don’t.”

Emma-Lidewij (selected from Chaos & Catastrophe ©)

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Louis XV is in his deathbed. Much has changed in France since he lay ill some three decades earlier and now he is dying and people go about as though they couldn’t care less. Thomas Carlyle examines the role of history,Belief,Pomp and Circumstance and the symbolic value of Power

“Realised Ideals.

Such a changed France have we; and a changed Louis. Changed, truly; and
further than thou yet seest!–To the eye of History many things, in that
sick-room of Louis, are now visible, which to the Courtiers there present
were invisible. For indeed it is well said, ‘in every object there is
inexhaustible meaning; the eye sees in it what the eye brings means of
seeing.’ To Newton and to Newton’s Dog Diamond, what a different pair of
Universes; while the painting on the optical retina of both was, most
likely, the same! Let the Reader here, in this sick-room of Louis,
endeavour to look with the mind too.

Time was when men could (so to speak) of a given man, by nourishing and
decorating him with fit appliances, to the due pitch, make themselves a
King, almost as the Bees do; and what was still more to the purpose,
loyally obey him when made. The man so nourished and decorated,
thenceforth named royal, does verily bear rule; and is said, and even
thought, to be, for example, ‘prosecuting conquests in Flanders,’ when he
lets himself like luggage be carried thither: and no light luggage;
covering miles of road….

For ours is a most fictile world; and man is the most fingent plastic of
creatures. A world not fixable; not fathomable! An unfathomable Somewhat,
which is Not we; which we can work with, and live amidst,–and model,
miraculously in our miraculous Being, and name World.–But if the very
Rocks and Rivers (as Metaphysic teaches) are, in strict language, made by
those outward Senses of ours, how much more, by the Inward Sense, are all
Phenomena of the spiritual kind: Dignities, Authorities, Holies, Unholies!
Which inward sense, moreover is not permanent like the outward ones, but
forever growing and changing. Does not the Black African take of Sticks
and Old Clothes (say, exported Monmouth-Street cast-clothes) what will
suffice, and of these, cunningly combining them, fabricate for himself an
Eidolon (Idol, or Thing Seen), and name it Mumbo-Jumbo; which he can
thenceforth pray to, with upturned awestruck eye, not without hope? The
white European mocks; but ought rather to consider; and see whether he, at
home, could not do the like a little more wisely.

So it was, we say, in those conquests of Flanders, thirty years ago: but
so it no longer is. Alas, much more lies sick than poor Louis: not the
French King only, but the French Kingship; this too, after long rough tear
and wear, is breaking down. The world is all so changed; so much that
seemed vigorous has sunk decrepit, so much that was not is beginning to
be!–Borne over the Atlantic, to the closing ear of Louis, King by the
Grace of God, what sounds are these; muffled ominous, new in our centuries?
Boston Harbour is black with unexpected Tea: behold a Pennsylvanian
Congress gather; and ere long, on Bunker Hill, DEMOCRACY announcing, in
rifle-volleys death-winged, under her Star Banner, to the tune of Yankee-
doodle-doo, that she is born, and, whirlwind-like, will envelope the whole
world!

Sovereigns die and Sovereignties: how all dies, and is for a Time only; is
a ‘Time-phantasm, yet reckons itself real!’ The Merovingian Kings, slowly
wending on their bullock-carts through the streets of Paris, with their
long hair flowing, have all wended slowly on,–into Eternity. Charlemagne
sleeps at Salzburg, with truncheon grounded; only Fable expecting that he
will awaken. Charles the Hammer, Pepin Bow-legged, where now is their eye
of menace, their voice of command? Rollo and his shaggy Northmen cover not
the Seine with ships; but have sailed off on a longer voyage. The hair of
Towhead (Tete d’etoupes) now needs no combing; Iron-cutter (Taillefer)
cannot cut a cobweb; shrill Fredegonda, shrill Brunhilda have had out their
hot life-scold, and lie silent, their hot life-frenzy cooled….  They are all gone; sunk,–down, down,
with the tumult they made; and the rolling and the trampling of ever new
generations passes over them, and they hear it not any more forever.

And yet withal has there not been realised somewhat? Consider (to go no
further) these strong Stone-edifices, and what they hold! Mud-Town of the
Borderers (Lutetia Parisiorum or Barisiorum) has paved itself, has spread
over all the Seine Islands, and far and wide on each bank, and become City
of Paris, sometimes boasting to be ‘Athens of Europe,’ and even ‘Capital of
the Universe.’ Stone towers frown aloft; long-lasting, grim with a
thousand years. Cathedrals are there, and a Creed (or memory of a Creed)
in them; Palaces, and a State and Law. Thou seest the Smoke-vapour;
unextinguished Breath as of a thing living. Labour’s thousand hammers ring
on her anvils: also a more miraculous Labour works noiselessly, not with
the Hand but with the Thought. How have cunning workmen in all crafts,
with their cunning head and right-hand, tamed the Four Elements to be their
ministers; yoking the winds to their Sea-chariot, making the very Stars
their Nautical Timepiece;–and written and collected a Bibliotheque du Roi;
among whose Books is the Hebrew Book! A wondrous race of creatures: these
have been realised, and what of Skill is in these: call not the Past Time,
with all its confused wretchednesses, a lost one.

Observe, however, that of man’s whole terrestrial possessions and
attainments, unspeakably the noblest are his Symbols, divine or divine-
seeming; under which he marches and fights, with victorious assurance, in
this life-battle: what we can call his Realised Ideals. Of which realised
ideals, omitting the rest, consider only these two: his Church, or
spiritual Guidance; his Kingship, or temporal one. The Church: what a
word was there; richer than Golconda and the treasures of the world! In
the heart of the remotest mountains rises the little Kirk; the Dead all
slumbering round it, under their white memorial-stones, ‘in hope of a happy
resurrection:’–dull wert thou, O Reader, if never in any hour (say of
moaning midnight, when such Kirk hung spectral in the sky, and Being was as
if swallowed up of Darkness) it spoke to thee–things unspeakable, that
went into thy soul’s soul. Strong was he that had a Church, what we can
call a Church: he stood thereby, though ‘in the centre of Immensities, in
the conflux of Eternities,’ yet manlike towards God and man; the vague
shoreless Universe had become for him a firm city, and dwelling which he
knew. Such virtue was in Belief; in these words, well spoken: I believe.
Well might men prize their Credo, and raise stateliest Temples for it, and
reverend Hierarchies, and give it the tithe of their substance; it was
worth living for and dying for.

Neither was that an inconsiderable moment when wild armed men first raised
their Strongest aloft on the buckler-throne, and with clanging armour and
hearts, said solemnly: Be thou our Acknowledged Strongest! In such
Acknowledged Strongest (well named King, Kon-ning, Can-ning, or Man that
was Able) what a Symbol shone now for them,–significant with the destinies
of the world! A Symbol of true Guidance in return for loving Obedience;
properly, if he knew it, the prime want of man. A Symbol which might be
called sacred; for is there not, in reverence for what is better than we,
an indestructible sacredness? On which ground, too, it was well said there
lay in the Acknowledged Strongest a divine right; as surely there might in
the Strongest, whether Acknowledged or not,–considering who made him
strong. And so, in the midst of confusions and unutterable incongruities
(as all growth is confused), did this of Royalty, with Loyalty environing
it, spring up; and grow mysteriously, subduing and assimilating (for a
principle of Life was in it); till it also had grown world-great, and was
among the main Facts of our modern existence. Such a Fact, that Louis
XIV., for example, could answer the expostulatory Magistrate with his
“L’Etat c’est moi (The State? I am the State);” and be replied to by
silence and abashed looks. So far had accident and forethought; had your
Louis Elevenths, with the leaden Virgin in their hatband, and torture-
wheels and conical oubliettes (man-eating!) under their feet; your Henri
Fourths, with their prophesied social millennium, ‘when every peasant
should have his fowl in the pot;’ and on the whole, the fertility of this
most fertile Existence (named of Good and Evil),–brought it, in the matter
of the Kingship. Wondrous! Concerning which may we not again say, that in
the huge mass of Evil, as it rolls and swells, there is ever some Good
working imprisoned; working towards deliverance and triumph?

How such Ideals do realise themselves; and grow, wondrously, from amid the
incongruous ever-fluctuating chaos of the Actual: this is what World-
History, if it teach any thing, has to teach us, How they grow; and, after
long stormy growth, bloom out mature, supreme; then quickly (for the
blossom is brief) fall into decay; sorrowfully dwindle; and crumble down,
or rush down, noisily or noiselessly disappearing. The blossom is so
brief; as of some centennial Cactus-flower, which after a century of
waiting shines out for hours! Thus from the day when rough Clovis, in the
Champ de Mars, in sight of his whole army, had to cleave retributively the
head of that rough Frank, with sudden battleaxe, and the fierce words, “It
was thus thou clavest the vase” (St. Remi’s and mine) “at Soissons,”
forward to Louis the Grand and his L’Etat c’est moi, we count some twelve
hundred years: and now this the very next Louis is dying, and so much
dying with him!–

But of those decadent ages in which no Ideal either grows or blossoms?
When Belief and Loyalty have passed away, and only the cant and false echo
of them remains; and all Solemnity has become Pageantry; and the Creed of
persons in authority has become one of two things: an Imbecility or a
Macchiavelism? Alas, of these ages World-History can take no notice; they
have to become compressed more and more, and finally suppressed in the
Annals of Mankind; blotted out as spurious,–which indeed they are.
Hapless ages: wherein, if ever in any, it is an unhappiness to be born.
To be born, and to learn only, by every tradition and example, that God’s
Universe is Belial’s and a Lie; and ‘the Supreme Quack’ the hierarch of
men! In which mournfulest faith, nevertheless, do we not see whole
generations (two, and sometimes even three successively) live, what they
call living; and vanish,–without chance of reappearance?

In such a decadent age, or one fast verging that way, had our poor Louis
been born. Grant also that if the French Kingship had not, by course of
Nature, long to live, he of all men was the man to accelerate Nature. The
Blossom of French Royalty, cactus-like, has accordingly made an astonishing
progress. In those Metz days, it was still standing with all its petals,
though bedimmed by Orleans Regents and Roue Ministers and Cardinals; but
now, in 1774, we behold it bald, and the virtue nigh gone out of it…

Who is it that the King (Able-man, named also Roi, Rex, or Director) now guides? His own
huntsmen and prickers: when there is to be no hunt, it is well said, ‘Le
Roi ne fera rien (To-day his Majesty will do nothing). (Memoires sur la
Vie privee de Marie Antoinette, par Madame Campan (Paris, 1826), i. 12).
He lives and lingers there, because he is living there, and none has yet
laid hands on him.

The nobles, in like manner, have nearly ceased either to guide or misguide;
and are now, as their master is, little more than ornamental figures. It
is long since they have done with butchering one another or their king:
the Workers, protected, encouraged by Majesty, have ages ago built walled
towns, and there ply their crafts; will permit no Robber Baron to ‘live by
the saddle,’ but maintain a gallows to prevent it. Ever since that period
of the Fronde, the Noble has changed his fighting sword into a court
rapier, and now loyally attends his king as ministering satellite; divides
the spoil, not now by violence and murder, but by soliciting and finesse.
These men call themselves supports of the throne, singular gilt-pasteboard
caryatides in that singular edifice! For the rest, their privileges every
way are now much curtailed. That law authorizing a Seigneur, as he
returned from hunting, to kill not more than two Serfs, and refresh his
feet in their warm blood and bowels, has fallen into perfect desuetude,–
and even into incredibility; for if Deputy Lapoule can believe in it, and
call for the abrogation of it, so cannot we. (Histoire de la Revolution
Francaise, par Deux Amis de la Liberte (Paris, 1793), ii. 212.) No
Charolois, for these last fifty years, though never so fond of shooting,
has been in use to bring down slaters and plumbers, and see them roll from
their roofs; (Lacretelle, Histoire de France pendant le 18me Siecle (Paris,
1819) i. 271.) but contents himself with partridges and grouse. Close-
viewed, their industry and function is that of dressing gracefully and
eating sumptuously. As for their debauchery and depravity, it is perhaps
unexampled since the era of Tiberius and Commodus. Nevertheless, one has
still partly a feeling with the lady Marechale: “Depend upon it, Sir, God
thinks twice before damning a man of that quality.” (Dulaure, vii. 261.)
These people, of old, surely had virtues, uses; or they could not have been
there. Nay, one virtue they are still required to have (for mortal man
cannot live without a conscience): the virtue of perfect readiness to
fight duels.

Such are the shepherds of the people: and now how fares it with the flock?
With the flock, as is inevitable, it fares ill, and ever worse. They are
not tended, they are only regularly shorn. They are sent for, to do
statute-labour, to pay statute-taxes; to fatten battle-fields (named ‘Bed
of honour’) with their bodies, in quarrels which are not theirs; their hand
and toil is in every possession of man; but for themselves they have little
or no possession. Untaught, uncomforted, unfed; to pine dully in thick
obscuration, in squalid destitution and obstruction: this is the lot of
the millions; peuple taillable et corveable a merci et misericorde. In
Brittany they once rose in revolt at the first introduction of Pendulum
Clocks; thinking it had something to do with the Gabelle. Paris requires
to be cleared out periodically by the Police; and the horde of hunger-
stricken vagabonds to be sent wandering again over space–for a time.
‘During one such periodical clearance,’ says Lacretelle, ‘in May, 1750, the
Police had presumed withal to carry off some reputable people’s children,
in the hope of extorting ransoms for them. The mothers fill the public
places with cries of despair; crowds gather, get excited: so many women in
destraction run about exaggerating the alarm: an absurd and horrid fable
arises among the people; it is said that the doctors have ordered a Great
Person to take baths of young human blood for the restoration of his own,
all spoiled by debaucheries. Some of the rioters,’ adds Lacretelle, quite
coolly, ‘were hanged on the following days:’ the Police went on.
(Lacretelle, iii. 175.) O ye poor naked wretches! and this, then, is your
inarticulate cry to Heaven, as of a dumb tortured animal, crying from
uttermost depths of pain and debasement? Do these azure skies, like a dead
crystalline vault, only reverberate the echo of it on you? Respond to it
only by ‘hanging on the following days?’–Not so: not forever! Ye are
heard in Heaven. And the answer too will come,–in a horror of great
darkness, and shakings of the world, and a cup of trembling which all the
nations shall drink.

Remark, meanwhile, how from amid the wrecks and dust of this universal
Decay new Powers are fashioning themselves, adapted to the new time and its
destinies. Besides the old Noblesse, originally of Fighters, there is a
new recognised Noblesse of Lawyers; whose gala-day and proud battle-day
even now is. An unrecognised Noblesse of Commerce; powerful enough, with
money in its pocket. Lastly, powerfulest of all, least recognised of all,
a Noblesse of Literature; without steel on their thigh, without gold in
their purse, but with the ‘grand thaumaturgic faculty of Thought’ in their
head. French Philosophism has arisen; in which little word how much do we
include! Here, indeed, lies properly the cardinal symptom of the whole
wide-spread malady. Faith is gone out; Scepticism is come in. Evil
abounds and accumulates: no man has Faith to withstand it, to amend it, to
begin by amending himself; it must even go on accumulating. While hollow
langour and vacuity is the lot of the Upper, and want and stagnation of the
Lower, and universal misery is very certain, what other thing is certain?
That a Lie cannot be believed! Philosophism knows only this: her other
belief is mainly that, in spiritual supersensual matters no Belief is
possible. Unhappy! Nay, as yet the Contradiction of a Lie is some kind of
Belief; but the Lie with its Contradiction once swept away, what will
remain? The five unsatiated Senses will remain, the sixth insatiable Sense
(of vanity); the whole daemonic nature of man will remain,–hurled forth to
rage blindly without rule or rein; savage itself, yet with all the tools
and weapons of civilisation; a spectacle new in History.

In such a France, as in a Powder-tower, where fire unquenched and now
unquenchable is smoking and smouldering all round, has Louis XV. lain down
to die. With Pompadourism and Dubarryism, his Fleur-de-lis has been
shamefully struck down in all lands and on all seas; Poverty invades even
the Royal Exchequer, and Tax-farming can squeeze out no more; there is a
quarrel of twenty-five years’ standing with the Parlement; everywhere Want,
Dishonesty, Unbelief, and hotbrained Sciolists for state-physicians: it is
a portentous hour.

Such things can the eye of History see in this sick-room of King Louis,
which were invisible to the Courtiers there. It is twenty years, gone
Christmas-day, since Lord Chesterfield, summing up what he had noted of
this same France, wrote, and sent off by post, the following words, that
have become memorable: ‘In short, all the symptoms which I have ever met
with in History, previous to great Changes and Revolutions in government,
now exist and daily increase in France.’ (Chesterfield’s Letters:
December 25th, 1753.)

End of the selection.

“History repeats itself, not exactly from a script man may draw up from the past but what moral laws Justice and Equity demand. It is God-ordained. Heaven and Earth belong to God so for those in positions of trust, who carelessly mete out injustice because the color of man is wrong and he cannot defend himself if he is defrauded by some unjust laws or by brute force he is a disgrace. Deny Justice and make the nation bleed itself to insignificance is what History teaches-benny”

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(Young Murtius is on the run from a one-camel town and he is heading towards Istanbul but a minor hitch in his travel plans finds him making a hole in the water. He has to make a deal with a great white shark. He promises another one in his place. The selected passage is from the episode How the Pirate Kept His Promise.– B)

“The water was cold, and being a good swimmer he swam for all his worth. Much more was his grim determination since he saw a spectre from underwater bearing upon him.

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It was a great white shark, which surfaced as if out of nowhere. The murderous shark didn’t waver but made a beeline towards him and it meant business. He gave a stiff competition to it. He was saved in time. …It was at that moment two pairs of hands had reached out to draw him up. One turned him over slapping till he had spat out the water and he could breathe freely. He also saw a cherubic face peering at him. Through the mists of wakefulness that follows near death experience he saw the face was curious and was holding out something to him. In a trice he imagined, an angel had come down, to save him. Just as what that old monk in Heliopolis had been telling.

The angel in a tarbush was large and he was coaxing him to drink what he held in his hands. He came around after a hot cup of tea he found himself in a strange vessel and the owner of the vessel, a rather stout fellow beaming at his chance find with unconfined joy. The wet bedraggled man in his early twenties was thankful him. While his host was drying him out and chatting to keep him hold to the present he recalled the shark. He shivered to think he had a deal on his hand.  He knew he would come across the shark again.

The sign of the shark did show a crescent moon. A distinctive mark on its dorsal fin.

Murtius thought it meant Istanbul where the streets in his mind’s eye had already acquired a 24- karat look.

His saviour, a stick-in-the mud type however didn’t have plans to take him to Istanbul but to his home in Izmir. He asked the youth what his name was. He said, “Black Hand.” Those five fellows, who had revenged on him by throwing him overboard, called him Black Hand as they dumped him into the waters. Murtius said simply, “Black Hand”. The name stuck.

Murtius was thus in the boat of Tayyab whose wealth had made Izmir synonymous for watermelons. His savior as he could see was still ecstatic of casaba (a variety of winter melons) of which everything that was to be known he had imparted to his ward; the young man realized in whichever way he changed the subject, it somehow rolled back to casaba. He had nothing personal against watermelons. But. If anyone did think of forming an Anti-Casaba League, he was sure he would have put his name down in the first place.

Naturally his biggest let down was yet to come. In that little effusion of the milk of human kindness Tayyab had acquired a slave for nothing.

“I have been greatly mistaken!” Black Hand exclaimed as he set his foot on the soil of Izmir. Instead of gold he was picking watermelons for his master who made him work from sunrise till sundown. Whom he had thought was an angel made sure he worked till he dropped off in fatigue; where he believed in divine intervention from an untimely death, his master believed in the redeeming nature of work. He had cucumbers and sour yogurt day in and day out. Tayyab intended to get the worth of every ounce of food he doled out to him. He had no choice but eat what little he got to stay alive. All work and no play made him cunning, inhumanly cunning. He knew he needed to lie low as low as his spirits. Before long his rock-hard belief in destiny was floundering. “By the beard of Mar Chrys-o-stom,” he asked in disgust, “what Destiny were you talking me into?”

Two years of hard labour however paid dividends. In his case he was taken out from dirt and put in a not so seaworthy felucca. He was all for a watery grave than rubbing his nose any more in the dirt. So he happily took control of the Casaba. The first time he smelled the sea after two years of drudgery and felt its salty spray on his cheeks he thought it was time he gave Destiny a not so gentle nudge…”

Selected from the Horrible Adventures of Captain Black Hand by Q-bitz available through Amazon

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During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Catholic and Protestant theologians were at the forefront in the attempt to resolve the moral dilemmas posed by the changing economies of the Mediterranean, the Atlantic world, and the Baltic. They notably agonized over how to square Christian doctrinal and legal positions with banking ethics and the prohibition of usury. Figures as diverse as Calvin and Cardinal Cajetan did not reject the emerging banking houses and their place in society, with their increasingly sophisticated forms of credit, but they strove to define what constituted ethical commerce.

Thinkers of that era grappled as well with anxiety. It lay at the heart of the Protestant Reformation, and of Calvinism in particular, and formed the basis of Max Weber’s understanding of the “Protestant work ethic.” Weber shrewdly perceived that the radical separation of the spiritual and material in the Re- formed tradition, a “disenchantening” of the world, left humanity worried that there was no discernable path to the divine. He saw the anxiety engendered by this shattering realization as transformative.

Signs of Salvation

Weber primarily looked to seventeenth-century Puritans, but the story begins earlier. Following Martin Luther, John Calvin’s conversion experience in the 1530s arose from a deep sense of spiritual anxiety. Calvin never questioned his own election, though he chose not to write about it, and when dealing with parishioners wracked by doubt he directed them to the love of Christ. Outward actions and events – he was emphatic – could never be taken as signs of salvation. Pastorally, however, this proved deeply troubling to the Reformed faith, and Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza, made greater accommodation by allowing human deeds to be at least partial indicators of God’s love.

The question of certainty and its attendant pastoral issues remained in tension within the Reformed churches as they emerged in the Netherlands, England, and New England. The matter was not abstract, but hotly contested in terms of how the Bible was to be read, of relations of the church to temporal authority, and of the Christian in the secular world. The Reformation principle of sola scriptura had thrown open the question of how the Bible should be interpreted. Calvin and the Reformed leaders sought to ground interpretation once more within the church, but in so doing they faced fierce criticism that they were doing little more than restoring Roman authority. The Reformation made Christianity’s sacred text a battleground over contesting claims to authority – another source of the new anxiety.

With regard to the state, the issues were no less momentous. Although Calvin did not anticipate the separation of church and state, there can be little doubt that in Geneva during his lifetime significant developments began the process of secularization. Drawing on the Augustinian model of the separation of the two kingdoms, Calvin passionately believed that the church should be free in questions of doctrine and discipline. He fiercely resisted what he regarded as the unwarranted intrusion of the magistrates in the central affairs of the church.

In Geneva, however, he lost this battle. The Swiss model of churches ruled over by secular authorities prevailed, and Calvin was bitterly disappointed. Nevertheless, what emerged from his thinking is highly significant for modernity. Calvin increasingly conceived of a state where the rulers were limited in order to ensure protection of religion. They were expected to preserve the circumstances in which true religion could be practised. This was the resolution of the devastating Thirty Years’ War in 1648 when the Peace of Westphalia essentially removed religion from the political equation.

Building on medieval models, Protestantism of the sixteenth century named and sanctified work and commerce as part of the godly life. Calvin viewed economics as a way of linking the life of the community with the divine will. In many respects his perspective was entirely practical: as the leading author in Geneva he was responsible for the growth of its printing industry. He involved himself in the commercial life of the city, while his brother Antoine controlled his financial affairs. Calvin understood that loans and lending were an essential part of the market and of Geneva’s place as a trading center at the heart of Europe. He approved of the charging of interest and rejected older notions of usury on the condition that it not be abused. The poor, for instance, should not be forced to pay interest.

Theology of Work

Calvin argued for moderation in business ethics. Lending and profit-making should be permitted only insofar as they were useful, never simply to build personal wealth. All of this fell within his understanding of work and labor as vocations. In performing useful work a person served both God and humanity, and the rewards should be commensurate. His arguments were not new or radical in themselves, but they formed part of his larger theology that sought to understand the relationship of the human and divine. Work and service were for the honor of God, but once more the door was opened to a new, more secular view, that work might exist for its own sake.

This gathering tension in the relationship between the fruits of labor and vocation became explicit after Calvin’s death, during the golden age of the Dutch Republic. In his magisterial account, The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (Vintage, 1997), Simon Schama has related how the prosperous Calvinists of the Republic were deeply unsettled about their material success, seeing it less as a sign of election than as a form of reprobation. The enormous wealth generated by the Republic’s trading empire financed the nation’s protection against enemies. At the same time, however, it brought material temptations that could destroy the godly society from within. The result was an unresolved anxiety that, in Schama’s interpretation, deeply troubled any sense that capitalism and Protestantism were easy companions.

In performing useful work a person served both God and humanity, and the rewards should be commensurate. His arguments were not new or radical in themselves, but they formed part of his larger theology that sought to understand the relationship of the human and divine.

Revisiting Weber

This returns us to Max Weber’s famous account Protestantism and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904/5), in which he interpreted the Calvinism of the seventeenth-century as an important source of modern economic practice. The broad outlines of the argument are familiar, though more often than not crudely caricatured. Weber was a subtle and perceptive student of history, theology, and economics. He never argued for a simple causal relationship between Protestantism and capitalism. Rather he identified the ways in which Calvinism contained a “spirit” or “ethic” that made possible the rise of capitalism and granted it legitimacy.

In brief, he wrote that the God of Calvinism is remote and inscrutable, leaving humans uncertain of their salvation. He focused his analysis on the doctrine of predestination and its effects. It is salvation anxiety that drives the desire to pursue with rigor a secular calling in the world. The pastoral literature of English Puritans revealed to him the depth of this uncertainty. The unknowable nature of God pushed Calvinists to seek signs of election in the world,

(Selected from: Calvinism and Capitalism: Together Again? byBruce Gordon/Yale Divinity School)

 

 

 

 

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Illustration from The Life of Aesop

(Aesop at the age of 12 is brought to the House of Iadmon, a Samoan and he wants to find out more about his new purchase.-b)
Next day Iadmon called Aesop to a room where beautiful musical instruments were kept. “Boy, I am in a mood to be entertained. What instrument will you choose?” There were many wind and stringed instruments. Aesop took a cither saying, “Oh my last master loved this. He would play on for hours.” He expressed he was sorry he did not take up music lessons then.
“So my choice has to be this.” Aesop had a flute in his hands and he made such strange sounds with it. His master winced and stopped him. “Why didn’t you tell me you are such a dunce with a flute?” “Oh master I spared you from my rendition of ‘Oh the mists of Olympus’ on a cither. Had you heard me you certainly would have complimented me to say: ‘I have a way with the flute.’ ”
The master had a hard time to contain his laughter. Managing a very grave demeanor he said, “‘If I ever hear you play flute within my earshot you shall be sorry.” He waved the young slave away.

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