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Thursday, January 31, 2008

PROGRESS REPORT #27: A BIT OF HISTORY

The Vancouver Public Library

Last Friday I went on a little field trip downtown. At the Vancouver Public Library there was a small exhibit presented by the Biblical Museum of Canada www.biblicalmuseum.com
The display included some interesting accurate facsimiles of historical artefacts of cultures and civilizations that provoke memory and inspire vision. This display included artifacts from the 5000 year Glory of Egypt and the Ancient World. There were a number of interesting objects from Egypt, and some Sumerian images (early Hebrew). The Golden Age of Egypt was represented by Pharaoh Amenhotep IV and his beautiful wife Nefertiti.

In one case there were articles referring to the Exodus including various papyrii. Then there was a case devoted to the downfall of Egypt begining with the Persian invasion, the the Greeks, under Alexander the Great. I was thrilled to see a (replica) of the beautiful bust of Alexander that I have seen in the Pella Museum in Northern Greece. In this bust he is about 18 years old and it was likely sculpted after the Battle of Chaironea. Following the Ptolelemaci Dynast, came the Romans. There was a copy of the Rosetta Stone and some Roman artifacts as well including a bust of Julius Caesar. (Here I should add, that our library is built to resemble the coliseum of Rome.)

Bust of Alexander from the Pella Museum
I found the diplay, though modest, inspiring and interesting. Seeing Alexander there was a huge surprise and that, if anything, made my day!

I also enjoyed the little tidbits from ancient Sumeria and Mesopotamia and it reminded me of the early part of my novel which takes place in Babylon, and all the research I did about that ancient city of Nebuchadnezzar. So I thought I'd post a snippet from the early part of my novel Shadow of the Lion (It's from Chapter Two and is in the point of view of one of my fictional characters, Nabarzanes, the Persian Court Advisor.) So, enjoy a little visit to Babylon.

NABARZANES
From outside the north gates of the palace a throng had been gathering since before dawn. The cries of jubilation at the news of the royal birth spread down the bustling Processional Way into the narrow streets of the suburbs. From the rooftops of the tall, three-storied houses, trumpets and voices proclaimed the arrival of the imperial child.

Above the glowing temples, thin plumes of smoke rose into the still air as one by one fire altars were rekindled. Pennants and garlands appeared on the city walls where adornments had been removed after Alexander’s death. The Processional Way blazed with colour and on the palace battlements the purple and gold pennants of the Shahanshah fluttered from their gilded standards.

Nabarzanes left the palace by the eastern court, avoiding the press of the crowds who waited near the main gates. He was weary from his long day in the palace. He had tarried there long after the Annointments Rites, waiting until the Magus came from the Shahryar’s bedchamber. The old man had seemed transfixed and looked as though the blood had been drained out of him. He mumbled something about a dream -- a serpent -- (had he interpreted it to be the infant Prince’s daimon?) He had said that the newborn son of Alexander needed their allegiance, and complained that the Macedonians did not see their Shah as the Hand of God. Now that Alexander was gone, there was little respect for order. It was men like he, Nabarzanes, the Magus had said, who must be loyal, as the imperial child would be dependant on those who followed the Good Religion and believed in the Truth.

Nabarzanes pushed his way through the crowds on the Processional Way, past the parade of lions adorning the high brick walls. Outside of the Temple of Ishtar with its gleaming blue-tiled steps and Ishtar’s guarding lions, hawkers were selling votive offerings and trinkets to commemorate the royal birth. Farther along, in the courtyard of the little Temple of Nabusha-hare, the temple concubines plied their trade in honour of their goddess, dancing to the music of timbrels and flutes under the orange trees. A group of richly clad men stood by laughing. One of the girls beckoned to Nabarzanes as he passed. Another day he might have stopped.

The sun, setting in a crimson blaze over the western walls of the city, reflected from the temple’s silver ornaments and red glazed bricks. Through the palms, the river shone like polished brass. A fleet of little straw-hulled boats drifted downstream toward the harbour. The coarse voices of the boatmen echoed clearly across the breadth of the river.

As he turned into the palm grove he could hear the chanting of the magi from the fire temple on the ziggurat's top tier. A long line of supplicants wound like a coloured streamer up the whorl of steps to Marduk’s shrine. The sacred fire would be ablaze on the altar. At the entrance gates, the money-lenders were doing a brisk trade.

A hand tugged at the hem of his tunic. He looked down to see a wizened face imploring him. Days of celebration were profitable for beggars too. He tossed a shekel toward the bundle of rags.

“A thousand thanks, good sire,” a cracked old voice said. “May your sons have many sons.”

The words, meant as a compliment, cut through him instead. He remembered a stormy day in Ekbatana, the birth of another child. He had tried to put it out of mind until today -- the long cold winter he had spent with Darius’s army waiting in the sanctuary fo the mountain palace after the king’s cowardly flight from the Macedonian troops. He still felt an ache in his heart when he thought of it.

That winter had taken its toll. Freezing and hungry, snowed in and trapped in the mountain palace, his wife had died in childbirth; his newborn son lived only for a day. Today, seeing the Soghdian’s infant had brought it all back to him.

He turned toward the marketplace. As far as the eye could see where tents and pavilions, astonishing colours, sounds, smells. Bright banners marked the start or terminus of this or that caravan. There were merchants here from every part of earth; jugglers, acrobat, soothsayers and snake charmers.

A parade of horsemen approached. He recognized their standards: the golden starburst on a deep blue field, the royal emblem of Macedon. He stood aside to let them pass.

General Meleager glowered down at him sullenly. Nabarzanes recollected seeing that same expression of hatefulness on the man’s face when he was viewing the Soghdian’s newborn. He saluted, but was not acknowledged. Meleager had long made known his dislike of Persians. Several henchmen rode beside him, their horses bedizoned with silver trappings and scarlet ribbons. In their midst was Philip Arridaios, dressed in Alexander’s state robe, a sleeveless chlamys made of fine wool, dyed with rich Tyrian murex, clasped at the shoulder with golden lion masks. Alexander always wore it on parade days, its rich purple-red colour distinguishing him as the King. Arridaios, wearing full parade armour under the cape, sweated in the sultry evening heat. There was a look of dull uncertainty in his eyes and he glanced around nervously as his horse approached the crowded by-way.

Nabarzanes made a gesture of prostration out of deference to royalty. One of the escort soldiers proclaimed: “Make way for Philip Arridaios, King of Macedon!”
The soldiers began to cheer. Arridaios brightened and clapped his hands. Some men came running from the street to greet the cavalcade. They were Greeks, by their dress.

“Long live Philip Arridaios!” they cried.

Meleager looked around, beaming triumphantly. “Behold! Our new king!” he shouted.

Nabarzanes watched uneasily as the troop passed. He smelled treason. He knew it from his days with Darius, when the Persian army was on the run from the Macedonians. That winter in Ekbatana, he had known that Darius would die because of it, and he was unable to protect him. He wondered if he would be able to protect Alexander’s son. For as surely as Darius’s own generals had turned against their Shah, these Macedonian soldiers were conspiring to rid themselves of Alexander’s newborn heir.

He turned into the King’s Paradise, isolated from the jubilant cries . Nabarzanes kept to his solitary walk and entered the park, away from the bustling avenue. It was quiet in the park, the street sounds were muted and ring doves cooed from the trees. He wandered through the grove, under the tall sycamores and poplars, the grass soft under his slippered feet. The exquisite perfume of jasmine permeated the evening air, mingling with the fragrance of roses from the gardens. Near the river he passed the grand mansion of the Grand Vizier Perdikkas, and could hear the sounds of revelry. The Macedonians like a good feast. This one, to celebrate the royal birth, would far surpass any other they had had in recent days. Whether they accepted the child or now, it was as good an excuse as any for a banquet.

Over the music of kitharas and flutes, he could hear their voices raised in a raucous drinking song. Judging from the sound of the merriment, it was a large feast, perhaps fifty couches. There would be dancing girls and tables heaped with food. He could smell the drift of roasting lamb.He had not been invited, a slight he had long ago grown accustomed to. When Alexander lived, Persian noblemen were always included in his banquet and state affairs. But since he had become Grand Vizier, Perdikkas had tried to please the faction who opposed Persian supremacy and only addressed him in the role of Court Advisor. Revelry was left to the Macedonians.

Being a modest and temperate man, Nabarzanes felt no ill will at being snubbed. Persian modesty greatly amused the Greeks who were happiest when they were watching naked youths play games. Persian often drank large amounts of wine on ceremonial occasions, but Nabarzanes considered Macedonian manners boorish and uncouth. He abhorred the violence that erupted each time these high-spirited mountain warriors sat round banquet table.They were always borne along on a wave of sentiment. This celebration would undoubtedly go on for days, until the wine took hold of reason and blood was spilled. Even Alexander had been known to draw his sword on occasions. Once, at Marakanda, ihe had thrown a sarissa at a friend in a fit of rage. The killing of Black Kleitos had tempered Alexander. He nearly killed himself with grief over it. After that he was more careful to water his wine.

Nabarzanes passed by the torch-lit gate house. Cries of celebration spilled out into the courtyard: high-pitched voices, laughter, the squeals of women. Macedonians were men of vulgar morals. A Persian would die of shame rather than expose his woman to debauchery. He thought their behavior disgraceful. The first time he heard them address their king by his name “Alexander”, as familiarly as a common foot-soldier to his drinking mate, he was mortified. He had been raised in the court at Susa, sent there when he was five years old, the only son of a wealthy Median nobleman, cousin of the old Shah Ochus. He had been raised with royal children, educated in court affairs, poetry and the sciences, and taught to honour the Good Religion. By right of birth he chose to join the distinguished hazarapats, the Immortal Ten Thousand Bodyguards who carry golden pomegranates on their spear butts, and march beside the Shah in battle. He learned to humble himself before the Shah, and would have died for him. When Darius’s troops were routed and ran from the Macedonians like honey bees fleeing before smoke, he had shared the shame of Persia, but always remained true to the Shah.

Think correct and true: Speak correct and true: Do correct and true.
The Shah must be revered, for the Shah is the God’s spokesman on Earth.

It had been he who led the Macedonians to Darius who had been bloodied by the assassin’s knives and left to die in his war chariot begging for a drink of water. Alexander had rewarded him for his loyalty. Now he would honour Alexander by pledging loyalty to his infant son. Whether the Successors accepted the child or not, he knew this was to be his life’s role.

BABYLON

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8 comments:

Father Park said...

Love the fiction about Nabarzanes. And fiction it remains. There are some pertinent observations though:

Persian modesty greatly amused the Greeks who were happiest when they were watching naked youths play games. Persian often drank large amounts of wine on ceremonial occasions, but Nabarzanes considered Macedonian manners boorish and uncouth...

Can't argue with that.

Nabarzanes watched uneasily as the troop passed. He smelled treason. He knew it from his days with Darius, when the Persian army was on the run from the Macedonians. That winter in Ekbatana, he had known that Darius would die because of it, and he was unable to protect him.

Well now, that depends upon your defiition of "treason" doesn't it? Sure the story conflates the birth of Alexander IV with Meleager for dramatic purposes but that's drawing a bow of some length?

I'd suggest Meleager actually had a "cause" - even if it might have been his own.

Wynn Bexton said...

Thanks for the comments. As for 'treason' vs 'cause', I would think all traitors have a 'cause' and Meleagers was to overthrow Perdikkas and also put support for the idiot Philip Arridais as Alexander's heir to the throne rather than the Soghdian's child. At any rate, he got assassinated for his plot just as Bessus did for killing Darius.

Sam said...

Yes, lovely writing! I suppose we historical fiction writers most long for a time traval machine - and failing that, take pen in hand and visit history in our imaginations!
I'd love to see that library exhibit - it sounds fascinating.

Father Park said...

Well, yes. Bessus was done in as little 'demonstration'. Much show; plenty of acknowledge the ancestral punishment type thing.

Meleager, on the other hand, hadn't actually killed or usurped anyone - other than the rather ambitious Perdiccas.

The fact remains that, whether stoked by Meleager or not (I rather think not though he will have helped), the Macedonian rank and file did not want a half Sogdian/Macedonian "mongrel" as their king.

Wynn Bexton said...

You're right. They didn't. And that's why both 'kings' (Philip Arridaios the idiot and the child Alexander IV)
were merely puppets of the Successors, with tragic consequences. And that's what my novel is all about.

SAM, the little exhibit was quite interesting even though I've seen so many of the 'real' things in museums in London and Greece.

Father Park said...

A novel set in the time of the Diadochoi? Now, that might be interesting.

Are you planning only to cover the period down to Cassander's brutal acknowledgement of reality? That is, his wiping out of the Argead line? If so, that’s probably a good thing: there’s a plethora of material to work with and much to cover.

I’d think there’s a trilogy in the Diadochoi. Much alliance making and unmaking; murdering and deceiving; marching hither and thither and then back again; marshals staking all on the one battle and losing everything; navies constructed and destroyed and, of course, the battles and who came to grips with which coalition when and where.

A Cecil B De Mille cast of thousands. And the characters: grasping and scheming Perdiccas; Craterus with none too distant horizons; coldly callous old One Eye – always quick with a witty quip and a loud laugh – and his son Demetrius; the ill fated Eumenes; Antigenes, burned alive in a pit by Antigonus; the wily Ptolemy; the famously parsimonious Lysimachus and the successful Seleucus – murdered at the moment of triumph. Not to mention the support cast including the pathetically credulous Peithon and the pedestrian Polyperchon.

Perhaps I should begin it myself? I’d tell it from the inside out. Bit like Lucas and Star Wars: begin some years down the track from Alexander’s death…

Wynn Bexton said...

Yes, that's the story, Father Park. I begin it on the day of Alexander's death and end it with the murder of his son and heir Alexander IV. There's a prologue and epilogue in Ptolomy's p.o.v as his is the only dynasty that really survived. You're right about the convoluted antics of the successors and one reason this novel has taken me so long to finish is the continual having to untangle the web their activities. A DeMille epic to be sure and I visualize it being produced much like ROME has been (I wish they'd done Alexander's story like that - it would have done it more justice than the movie which chopped so many vital episodes of his life.) In fact, while writing I visualize it like I'm watching it being reenacted, like a movie. The theme? How blind ambition and greed bring down a world power.
(I decided to write this period of the Alexander story after being horribly disappointed with the way that Mary Renault - my writing muse - handled "Funeral Games". In my novel I develop the key characters more extensively, although writing from this multiple p.o.v. has made it more complicated. But I do think it allows the reader to get a more visual grip on the characters and their times. All the characters are based on what I know (or perceive) of them from the Sources except for a couple of fictional characters (the Persian and the Magus and one of the old veterans) who I have introduced to balance out some 'good' guys, from the 'bad' (these men are probably the only ones who didn't have their own agenda.)

Father Park said...

The fall of a world power always has appeal.

By the time of the conqueror's return to Babylon, the days of Macedonia as a world power were numbered. It was now a backwater and unable to supply his voracious demand for national troops. Greece seethed.

Antipater did not bring a "new army" or even fresh drafts to Babylon because - as the Lamian war so amply demonstrated - he no longer had enough for himself let alone an absent king whose next conquest, like a drug addict, would never be the last. Their bones littered Asia.

A tendency to self preservation will too have played a part.