Elagabalus

Elagabalus (AD 203-222)

It is generally accepted that the worst of the Roman emperors was Elagabalus, also known as Heliogabalus, who reigned from 218 to 222, when he was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard at the tender age of eighteen. My thoughts tend to turn in his direction when I consider the current occupant of the White House and various other Trumpf properties. Read what Edward Gibbon has to say about him in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

A rational voluptuary adheres with invariable respect to the temperate dictates of nature, and improves the gratifications of sense by social intercourse, endearing connections, and the soft coloring of taste and the imagination. But Elagabalus, (I speak of the emperor of that name,) corrupted by his youth, his country, and his fortune, abandoned himself to the grossest pleasures with ungoverned fury [Italics mine], and soon found disgust and satiety in the midst of his enjoyments. The inflammatory powers of art were summoned to his aid: the confused multitude of women, of wines, and of dishes, and the studied variety of attitude and sauces, served to revive his languid appetites. New terms and new inventions in these sciences, the only ones cultivated and patronized by the monarch, signalized his reign, and transmitted his infamy to succeeding times. A capricious prodigality supplied the want of taste and elegance; and whilst Elagabalus lavished away the treasures of his people in the wildest extravagance, his own voice and that of his flatterers applauded a spirit of magnificence unknown to the tameness of his predecessors. To confound the order of seasons and climates, to sport with the passions and prejudices of his subjects, and to subvert every law of nature and decency, were in the number of his most delicious amusements. A long train of concubines, and a rapid succession of wives, among whom was a vestal virgin, ravished by force from her sacred asylum, were insufficient to satisfy the impotence of his passions. The master of the Roman world affected to copy the dress and manners of the female sex, preferred the distaff to the sceptre, and dishonored the principal dignities of the empire by distributing them among his numerous lovers; one of whom was publicly invested with the title and authority of the emperor’s, or, as he more properly styled himself, of the empress’s husband.

Perhaps what this country needs is a Praetorian Guard detachment.

 

So Much for Glory

Republican Prisoners of War

I have just finished reading Hugh Thomas’s monumental The Spanish Civil War. As its author became more rigidly conservative as he grew older, I read the original 1961 edition at the beginning of the historian’s writing career. It was an emotional experience for me: For years I had put off reading about the war, and I was devastated by its applicability to American politics in the 21st century.

It was George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia, written while the conflict was still in doubt in 1938, who influenced my thinking the most:

The human louse somewhat resembles a tiny lobster, and he lives chiefly in your trousers. Short of burning all your clothes there is no known way of getting rid of him. Down the seams of your trousers he lays his glittering white eggs, like tiny grains of rice, which hatch out and breed families of their own at horrible speed. I think pacifists might find it helpful to illustrate their pamphlets with enlarged photographs of lice. Glory of war indeed! In war all solderies are lousy, at the least when it is warm enough. The men that fought at Verdun, at Waterloo, at Flodden, at Senlac, at Thermopylae—every one of them had lice crawling over his testicles.

So much for glory! Orwell took a bullet in his neck near Huesca in 1937 and was invalided out through Barcelona. Yet, for all the horrors of war, he was able to say in the end, “I have the most evil memories of Spain, but I have very few bad memories of Spaniards.”

Members of an All-Female Anarchist Party Group

Today we see the conflict merely as a dress rehearsal for the Second World War. Both Hitler and Mussolini send troops and weapons to the Fascists; and Stalin, the same for the Republican side. Curiously, neither Hitler nor Stalin wanted either side to win outright: Their interest was for the war to continue. In the end, Franco won because he was better supplied, and his side was not as badly divided as the Republican side. Look at the following list of acronyms on the Republican side. Each one represented a center of ideological purity which struggled against any sort of compromise:

  • CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo), the anarcho-syndicalist trades union
  • FAI (Federación Anarquista Ibérica), the anarchist secret society
  • POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista), the Trotskyist group for which Orwell fought
  • PSUC (Partido Socialista Unificado de Cataluña), the United Catalan Socialist-Communist Party
  • UGT (Unión General de Trabajadores), the Socialist Trade Union
  • UMR (Unión Militar Republicana), Republican officers group

Several of the above believed in militias, but not in a professional army. On the other side, the core of Franco’s army was the Army of Africa, headquartered in Spanish Morocco, together with Hitler’s highly professional Condor Legion. Although the Republican army grew more professional as the war continued, it was badly split between the Communists and the non-Communists. As Thomas wrote:

Undoubtedly, the Republic was terribly hampered by the disputes between the parties who supported it.  One excuse might be that all the parties felt so strongly about their own policies that defeat itself seemed preferable to a surrender of the purity of their individual views.

As I read those words, the political divide that separates the American people came to mind. Ideological purity is a very dangerous thing. I do believe I would sacrifice the purity of most of my views before ever damaging the country I love.

 

Italy’s “Other” Orgy Island

The Mediterranean Isle of Zannone

The original orgy island was Capri, where the Emperor Tiberius dwelt in the Villa Jovis and was entertained by nude underage “spintrians” in his pools and grottoes. You can read about the whole sad affair in Suetonius, or if you are pressed for time, try here.  (It is for a reason that Capri means “goat” in Italian.)

More recently, there was a nearby island, slightly to the north and west, called Zannone. The tiny islet contained a single villa owned by the Marquis Camillo Casati and inhabited with his sexy actress wife Anna Fallarino. The Marquis let his wife have public sex with visitors, handymen, boatmen—whoever—just so long as he was able to watch and take pictures. He eventually accumulated 1,500 photos of his wife enjoying the favors of a range of men.

The Marquis’s Actress Wife, Anna Fallarino

But all good hings must come to an end. It appears that Anna fell in love with one of her transient paramours, which gave the Marquis pangs of envy. On August 30, 1970, he got a pistol, shot Anna and her lover, Massimo Minorenti, and then turned the pistol on himself. There was brain matter and blood all over the seventeenth century paintings at the scene of the crime. You can read more about this scandalous affair on CNN or this website.

I decided to write this post today because my most popular article in the last five years was about news orgies and showed a picture of several kangaroos in compromising positions. My guess is that a lot of pizza-faced youngsters Google “orgy” and “orgies” for prurient reasons. So, let the games begin!

 

 

Garryowen

Charles Schreyvogel’s “A Sharp Encounter”

There are many stories braided into the history of the American West. There were the settlers, the outlaws, the railroads, the Chinese, the Mexicans—and there were the Indians in their battle against the U.S. Army. I have just finished reading Robert M. Utley’s Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indian 1866-1891 (New York: Macmillan, 1973). According to Utley, there were “more than 1,000 combat actions, involving 2,000 military casualties and almost 6,000 Indian casualties.”

And yet, most of us know about the Indian wars from a handful of Hollywood Westerns, such as Raoul Walsh’s They Died with Their Boots On (about Custer) and John Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy: Fort Apache, Rio Grande, and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (about the Apache wars). In most of these films, we heard the military bands playing “Garryowen,” which was adopted by Custer for his Seventh Cavalry.

From Ford’s films, one would naturally assume that most of the cavalrymen were either Irish or unreconstructed Johnny Rebs. In fact, far more of them were black. Several entire regiments consisted of 100% black enlisted men—and, of course, 100% white officers. (In all fairness, John Ford covered the subject in his little-known Western Sergeant Rutledge.)

Frederic Remington Photo of Black 10th Cavalry Troopers

The Black Troopers, popularly known as Buffalo Soldiers, had a distinguished history, which, today, is largely forgotten. They were every bit as brave as the White troopers, and they were more likely to re-enlist.

If you want to see depictions of the U.S. Army in the West, I recommend to look at the photos and paintings of Frederick Remington and the paintings of Charles Schreyvogel.

John Wayne Never Fought Them

Old Photo of Jemez Pueblo Architecture

The Indians we know most about are the ones that appeared in the old Westerns: The Navajo, Apaches, Comanches, and Sioux. There are some twenty Indian tribes in New Mexico and Arizona that, insofar as I know, never appeared in any. John Wayne never fought them, nor did Randolph Scott or Jimmy Stewart or Audie Murphy. I am referring to the Pueblo Indians, most of which are located around Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

We know that the Navajo, Apaches, Comanches, and Sioux have been warlike. But did you know that the only successful Indian revolt against Western colonization was fought by an alliance of Pueblos in 1680. It was not until twelve years later that the Spanish reconquered the territory, but even then with difficulty. Many of the most warlike Pueblos simply united with the Hopis and Navajos.

I have just finished reading The Pueblo Revolt: The Secret Rebellion That Drove the Spaniards Out of the Southwest by David Roberts (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004). The key word in the title is “secret.” To this day, the Pueblos do not choose to discuss the conflict—even one that occurred over four centuries ago. Consequently, most people do not know about it.

Pueblo Revolt Scene Painted on a Hide

Why the secrecy? I think it is a cultural trait. Years ago, Martine and I spent the night on the Zuñi Reservation at a time when most of the town and surrounding areas were off limits to non-Zuñis because some tourist had misbehaved at a ceremonial in the distant past. One cannot just waltz into a Puebloan reservation and have the run of the place. You will be referred to the tribal authorities, who most likely will ignore your request as a matter of course. It’s not that they are unfriendly: For them survival involves buttoning their lips, even if it involves a 450-year-old secret that just happens to be none of your beeswax.

The Dominguez Rancho Adobe

The Main Building of the Dominguez Rancho Adobe

The same Spanish names are dotted all over the map of California, namely of the Spanish and Mexican land grants that were made before the United States occupied the state during the Mexican-American War. The oldest of these land grants was the Rancho San Pedro, granted to a retired Spanish soldier named Juan José Dominguez by Pedro Fages, Lieutenant Governor of California, in 1784.

When the armed forces of the United States occupied the state beginning in 1846, Rancho San Pedro was the scene of a battle between Californios loyal to Mexico and a poorly led American naval force under Captain William Mervine. The Americans were attempting to relieve the siege of Los Angeles by another Californio force and were driven back in disarray. The conflict is also known as the Battle of the Old Woman’s Gun.

The next time the Adobe enters history was in 1910, when the Rancho was the scene of the first national aviation meet in the United States. According to Wikipedia:

It is estimated that over a half-million passengers traveled by train to see this historic event. An open grandstand was erected that was more than six hundred feet in length. Use of the field was provided without rental charge by the Dominguez family, though the family asked to have front row seats for the entire event. Many of the early aviation pioneers were present, including the Wright brothers, Curtiss, Martin, Paulhan, and Willard. Roy Knabenshue flew in one of the very first blimps. The aviation meet lasted for 10 days, establishing the first speed and endurance records.

The first time Martine and I saw the Dominguez Rancho Adobe was in June 2010 at a celebration honoring the 100th anniversary of the the 1910 event.

Today, the adobe was much more quiet. We were given an excellent tour by a docent. Many of the furnishings of the adobe building belonged to original members of the Dominguez family. When Manuel Dominguez, Juan José’s only surviving male heir, fathered six daughters, the names of Carson, Del Amo, and Watson, many of whose descendants are still extant.

The Adobe Kitchen

To perpetuate the Dominguez name, Manuel’s daughters in 1922 donated land to the Claretian Missionaries. Today, there is a two-story retirement home for Claretians on the premises. They are partly responsible for the attractive rose and cactus gardens on the premises. In the cactus garden, I even saw a cacao tree which was bearing fruit, similar to the ones my brother and I saw in Mindo, Ecuador in October 2016.

How the North Won the Civil War?

California Gold Paved the Way to Victory

This evening, I was reading John McPhee’s Assembling California when, suddenly, I came upon this quote by John Bidwell who wrote the following in his memoirs, first published in 1900:

It is a question whether the United States could have stood the shock of the great rebellion of 1861 had the California gold discovery not been made. Bankers and business men of New York in 1864 did not hesitate to admit that but for the gold of California, which monthly poured its five or six millions into that financial center, the bottom would have dropped out of everything. These timely arrivals so strengthened the nerves of trade and stimulated business as to enable the government to sell its bonds at a time when its credit was its life-blood and the main reliance by which to feed, clothe, and maintain its armies. Once our bonds went down to thirty-eight cents on the dollar. California gold averted a total collapse and enabled a preserved Union to come forth from the great conflict.

Bidwell should know: He was, in addition to being a California settler as far back as 1841, but was a member of congress and a candidate for Governor of the State of Califonia.

McPhee states that “by 1865, at the end of the American Civil War, seven hundred and eighty-five million dollars had come out of the ground in California, making a difference—possibly the difference—in the Civil War.”