Thursday, August 31, 2023

The Collapse CXVI: An Offer

19 June 20XX +1

My Dear Lucilius,

Young Xerxes came by this afternoon. An expedition is being mounted and they are looking for volunteers.

He was vague about the overall concept except that someone has apparently located The Locusts and now has them under observation. They are close, much closer than anyone would like, to the northernmost town of our small association in the Garnet Valley. Better to strike them now, the thought runs, than to wait until they move again – as they only have one way to go at this point, and we lie directly in that path.

A time of our choosing instead of theirs, as it were.

For us, here, it would be a hike of about 30 miles one way – add another 20 miles at the outside for the town beyond ours. Apparently someone has offered up some store of gasoline to at least get the volunteers there.

I am assuming he knows more – loose lips and all that – but he had two questions for me. The first, of course, is would I consider volunteering. Of course, I responded – although I am not quite sure what value I might add, I can at least shoot straight, be a backup, and (at my age) may be less of a loss than someone younger.

The second was if I would stand for him at his marriage. Which is now happening tomorrow – or so he proposed; he was going back to Statiera’s house to talk to her again and would I be willing to come with him?

As if somehow my presence would make everything easier.

I went, of course – I owe Young Xerxes more than that at this point. The relative bustle in the town as we walked suggested I was not the only one to that had a request of me; there was a steady stream of people entering and leaving the old post office as we walked by. Young Xerxes did not say much as we walked; he just looked sad and grim all at once.

Arriving at Statiera’s and Pompeia Paulina’s, we found the same sort of bustle. Statiera hugged Young Xerxes as soon as he walked in, then started crying, then starting telling him something about not going, then started crying again.

Pompeia Paulina and I discretely stepped outside.

It is the best sort of early evening here, the sort of evening that even a year ago I would have rejoiced in and perhaps even grilled some sort of meat. The sun cast its rays up and down the Garnet Valley and sky was the sort of cerulean blue one only seems to imagine that one can find in one’s imagination. We sat there for a while in the yard, trying very hard not to listen to what might or might not be going on in the house.

“Did Young Xerxes talk to you?” Pompeia Paulina finally asked.

“He did”. I studiously looked up at the mountains, the sky, viewing anything but who was next to me.

More silence as the birds chased insects along the grass line. “Are you going?”

“I expect that I am”. For such short sentences, this made for a very uncomfortable conversation.

“I don’t suppose I can talk you out of it.”

I shook my head. “It makes logical sense. Worst case is that I take the place of someone younger and stronger that has a life left to live. I would not be the biggest loss, although….” I sat and thought on something that had been in my mind for some time, but crystallized as Young Xerxes and I were walking over.

“Look” I said, turning to face her. “With me going off and all, it does worry me a bit that in the event...something happens, the rabbits and quail and bees are going to be on their own. This is going to sound a bit awkward – indeed, very awkward – but would you consider...marrying me?”

I rushed to fill the silence. “Merely a matter of legal convenience of course. If not make it back, I would at least rest easier knowing everything was settled. And what I have there should go to you and Statiera – you have been very good to me the last few months has meant a lot.”

There, it was out.

The wonderful thing about being solitary and old, Lucilius, is that you can simply do things like this and if they go awry, you can merely blame it on being “mad as a March hare”. For better or worse, this was off my chest. If she said no, at least I had tried and I would write a will saying the same thing (although who administers such things these days is a question).

I was ready for a laugh, a sharp denial, even a shaking of the head. What I was not ready for was her taking my hand, looking at me, and saying “Yes”.

Truly, that was unexpected.

So apparently I am getting married tomorrow in what is now a dual ceremony. I assured Pompeia Paulina that my real intent was nothing but trying to care of the animals under my care and make sure that my things were put to the best use.

Really. Just a convenience and tying up the loose ends of my life.

I have almost convinced myself that I believe that. Judging from her reaction, there apparently is a great deal more under the surface than I am aware of.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Greece 2023: Aigae II

 The amazing thing about the tombs found in The Great Tumulus at Aigae (Modern Vergina) is that two were undisturbed.  Thus, we have an amazing view into the wealth and craftsmanship of the ancient world.

Modern picture of Philip II, based on reconstruction of the skull:


Arrow quiver and greaves.  The greaves are made to fit a man with an inured leg, which matches a wound of Philip II:

Spears, greaves, and shield fittings:

Furniture fittings:

The crown and coffin of Philip II's wife buried with him:

Bed fittings:

Shield fittings.  Likely this was never used in battle:

The crown and coffin of Philip II:

Grave goods:

Wreath from the antechamber of Philip II's tomb:

Grave goods from Alexander IV's tomb:

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Greece 2023: Aigae I

 In 1977 A.D. the Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos began excavating a mound known as the Great Tumulus in the Greek city of Vergina (ancient Aigae, Αἰγέαι). Aigae was the ancient capital of the Greek Kingdom of Macedonia before the capital was relocated to Pella.  It also served as the ancient burial site of the Macedonian Kings.

When Andronikos made his excavation, he found four tombs, two of which were undisturbed since antiquity.  Further research indicated that the two undisturbed tombs were the resting place of Philip II (father of Alexander the Great), one of his wives, and Alexander IV (son of Alexander the Great).

View of the outside of the tumulus:

View of tomb one.  The museum is actual in the mound itself; we are looking down.

Model of Tomb 1, an unidentified (at least on our tour) woman's tomb.

Painting found in the tombs. It represents Hades kidnapping Persephone:

Model of Tomb II of Philip II.  This would have been the outer appearance; it was then buried.

Philip II's tomb:

Tomb III, belonging to Alexander IV:

Once again - and not for the first time - it was amazing to stand in the places where historical people had been.

Monday, August 28, 2023

On New Budgets And Economic Paranoia

 We have now completed two full paycheck cycles with my new income and the final budget numbers are more or less in.  The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I re-reviewed categories this morning and still have some homework to do based on expenses.

To be completely honest, I cannot tell you how strangely paranoid and worried I have become about income in the last month.

For clarity, the change in my income, while reasonably significant, is still well above the "we need to eat Ramen every night for a year" scenario.  All the bills are paid.  Savings are being put aside. The pets are still being maintained in the manner to which they have become accustomed (more or less; they claim less).  The one thing that really got pushed to the side is make-up retirement savings, but that is simply due to the fact that we essentially self funded my unemployment (which we were fortunate to be able to do, but now we have catch up on savings to replenish that fund).

And yet with all of this, I still find myself looking over my economic shoulder.

Part of it is understandable, I suppose.  The layoff (Hammerfall 2.0) is still too fresh in my mind and the gap - even though it was only 5 weeks - still stings.  And I find myself looking over my shoulder at my current job as well, which to be fair is a start-up with all the promise and risk that a start-up entails. I sometimes wonder if I am inflating potential risk factors in my head when I hear of certain developments or certain conversations - am I becoming one to jump at every sound and slash of light?  Because that seems like a pretty unfortunate way to go through life.

I am fortunate - I think I am fortunate - that I actually had the foresight to acquire a part-time job (Produce (A)Isle).  Yes, I have already cut my hours somewhat (as being gone six nights a week between work and Iaijutsu proved too much ever for me), but the additional coin in my pocket and the fact we can get a discount on a whole lot of groceries still makes me feel ahead of the game - and the knowledge that once I have the job, I am already one step ahead of looking for a job that will do the same thing (also, of course, I can ask to ramp my hours up again if needed).

I think what is weighing on my mind is simply the feeling that the economic world around me is not getting better either.

I know, I know.  Long ago someone told me that all economics, like all real estate markets, are local:  if you are doing well the economy is fine, if you are not the economy is terrible (in either case, regardless of what the numbers are).  And depending on which side of the political spectrum one finds one's self on, one can always find evidence to support one side or the other.

And yet, I hold a sense that there is simply something not right with the economic world, something that is just beyond my vision.

I am old enough and experienced enough not to just set aside my feelings based on the fact that I get "feelings"  - I have learned to my peril that ignoring such things almost never works out well for me.  And we can certainly do what we can to ensure that we work to minimize our spending and maximize our ability to save and make do with what we have.

I would not say it is so much a sense of fear as it is a sense of uneasiness, of waiting for a second shoe to drop which I can sense in the darkness even though I cannot see the form of the shoe dropping itself.  

The thump is coming.  No matter how much I steel myself, I still know I will start.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Of Ostrogoths And Failed Political Systems

 One of the lesser "might have beens" of history was the Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy.

The Ostrogoths, like their cousins the Visigoths, eventually showed up at the Roman Empires door but in a different way instead of directly moving to invasion in 378 A.D.:   co-opted by Attila The Hun, they served in his confederation of troops until around 454 A.D., when the Hun confederation fell apart and they moved to Pannonia (now Hungary). Conflict ensued again, and in 473-474 A.D. they rolled into the Balkan peninsula, where, after 14 years of moving from place to place and trying to go East, they turned and went West - and successfully invaded the Italian Peninsula in 488 A.D., creating the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy (493-554 A.D.).

Thomas Burns, in his book A History of the Ostrogoths, makes the following statement:

"In Italy, Theodoric (454 A.D. - 526 A.D., King of the Ostrogoths 471-526 A.D.) sought to stabilize his new established kingdom and to device a program where the indigenous Romans and the Ostrogoths could coexist peacefully and productively under the aegis of the Amalfian dynasty.  His efforts produced the most successful symbiosis of barbarians and Romans in contemporary Europe" (p. xiv) 

Theodoric and the Ostrogoths attempted to forge a new government system on the basis of the old Roman System.

Under the Ostrogoths, the King functioned as the head of state (keep in mind that the Western Empire had fallen in 476 A.D.) under the authority of the Roman Emperor in Constantinople. The Roman Imperial Senate continued to function.  Romans provided the administrators for the Kingdom (although the Ostrogoths, of course, held all the military posts).  The King of the Ostrogoths never "created" laws; he "clarified" them - largely to ensure the Ostrogoths remained in power, of course.  The Romans lived under the Roman laws of the Empire and the Ostrogoths under Ostrogothic Law.

The center could not hold, of course.  The Ostrogoths still in some events acted like Ostrogoths (Theoderic is rather well known for painfully executing Boethius, author of The Consolation of Philosophy, on a suspected treason charge) and the invasions of the Byzantine Empire starting in 535 A.D. until the end of the kingdom in 554 A.D. ensured that the last years of the Kingdom were spent fighting instead of building.  Add to that the fact that no leader after Theodoric had his vision for a merging of Ostrogothic and Roman interests, and the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy becomes nothing more than an interesting footnote of history for professional and amateur historians.

That is great, I hear you say.  Thanks for the rather obscure historical lesson.  And your point is...?

Three thoughts, really.

1)  Trying to cling to the norms of an old governmental system while making it something "different' does not mean you will have a viable governmental system.

2) There is no really thing such as "fusion" of two system.  They with the most power control the system, no matter how much they pretend they do/will not.

3) Taking over a political (and cultural) system which has existed for centuries is no guarantee it will continue to exist.

A historical note:  The Byzantines did not get to enjoy their newly conquered province for long.  The 20 year war of reconquest had destroyed and demoralized Italy; in 568 A.D. the Lombards, another Germanic tribe, poured over the Alps to conquer Italy for themselves and driving the Byzantines first to the coastal cities and then eventually out of Italy altogether.  The Lombardic Kingdom lasted until 768 A.D, and parts of it continued to exist until the final conquest by the Normans in 1078 A.D.  

Conquest is no guarantee of actual success.


Ostrogothic Kingdom

Gothic Language (Bonus Round!)

Friday, August 25, 2023

Greece 2023: The Waterfalls of Edessa

 After our visit to Pella, we headed drove through Macedonia towards the mountains.  These are agricultural lands with many orchards and fields.

For lunch, we stopped in the town of Edessa, which was up the mountain from the plain.  Potentially the even more ancient capital of Macedonia, it was an important link in the ancient world as it controlled the Via Egnatia, one of the great Roman roads that linked the ancient world.  In the early 20th century it became an industrial center as its water was harnessed for textile factories.  It now largely serves as a tourist center for Macedonia and an administrative center.

The view from our restaurant:

Lunch was an eggplant moussaka sort of thing.  Very delicious.

After lunch, we walked down a trail by the falls of Edessa overlooking the Macedonian Plain.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

The Collapse CV: Soul And Efficiency

16 June 20XX +1

My Dear Lucilius,

An odd combination of days. On the one hand, it was a quiet and productive day: garden weeded and watered, quail checked up on (they are laying – have I mentioned this? Odd how the addition of even one or two small quail eggs can really brighten a morning), bees up and in full swing, blue sky and sun. I was even able to find some time to fish across the road for a trout (I try to limit myself for nearby fishing so as to not exhaust the stock, but sometimes even I cannot resist a little extra easy protein).

On the other hand, Young Xerxes arrived with a paper sack which he wordlessly handed to me before heading off again.

It has been a long time since I have seen this many shells in this caliber.

I still have the cardboard boxes these shells originally came in and so I sat by the window, carefully placing them inside.

I have no meaningful idea why I did this. It is not as if them being in the boxes or not impacts their actual use. It was as much an act of respect as it was for any particularly useful purpose.

The whole thing left me disturbed.

As a palate cleanser – I can call it nothing else – I cleaned my shinken.

This makes no sense to my mind, Lucilius. Both of these items – the shells and the sword – are designed for one ultimate purpose: to kill. In one, I find a sort of miasma lingering as I put them one by one in their box, in the other I find a certain simplicity and even coolness as I wipe the blade down with alcohol, then a paper towel, then choji oil, and then replace it into its sheath.

By far, of course, the bullets and what they represent are far more efficient – the age of sword gave way to the age of the gun for a reason. And in the day, undoubtedly the sword was seen exactly as the gun is now: an efficient tool for the ultimate purpose of ending a life. But perhaps never quite as efficient as a firearm.

I wonder if this is my problem with the world of modern technology: one efficiency without soul, the other soul without the sort of efficiency one needs in this current world.

It flows into so many things, even as it did in the former days: writing with an actual fountain pen instead of on a computer, repairing instead of replacing at the first sign of issues, even training with a sword. These things seemed to have meaning in a way their modern equivalent did not, even if they were less efficient.

My shinken has gone back onto its rack and the bullets have found their way into their own correct locations. Even I am not so foolish as to believe that in the current environment the two methods they represent are equal.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

German Philosophers Be Like...

Friends, I am on a short term (one day) business trip within the state that New Home is in - to be frank, I am a little in shock because for the first time in as long as I can remember, a company actually suggested that paying for flights for the team was a better investment than sitting for hours in a car.

Good heavens, people that actually value time.  What a concept.

In lieu of anything more thoughtful, I present the picture below.  It made me laugh and really does reflect how I think German philosophers see the world:

Have a most excellent day!

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Greece 2023: Pella

 Pella (Πελλα)  was the second capital of the Macedonian Kingdom, replacing the original capital of Aigai in the 4th Century B.C.  This was the city that Alexander the Great (Pictured below) and his father Philip II grew up in; at one time Aristotle and Euripides came here.  Originally a harbor city, it was surpassed as the river silted in and replaced by Thessaloniki as the Macedonian capital.

The museum preserves a number of mosaics and artifacts.  The Mosaics are rather famous one of hunting.

The ruins themselves.  At one time, 200,000 people lived here and it was effectively the center of the Greek world.  All of Alexander's generals and successors at one time lived in and passed through this place.

Now, only the grasses, wind, and insects visit it on a regular basis.

One recent discovery is a bath house, something that was not expected in a "barbaric" capital such as Pella.