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A Natural History of Monstrous Nonsense (part 3)

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A Natural History of Monstrous Nonsense (part 3)
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  A Natural History of Monstrous Nonsense (part 3): Landscapes of Banishment Nick Jones Bournemouth and Poole College Bournemouth Dorset BH1 3JJ  jonesn@bpc.ac.uk www.thecollege.co.uk Abstract: The banishment dialectic   that arises from inequalities of social power is written upon landscapes and changes according to the circumstances of authorship  . Diverse evidence is examined from Greek heroes to monster- conjuring Rabbis and the American Indian occupation of  Alcatraz to Aldous Huxley’s mescaline experiments. It is concluded that mythological narrative adapts to mediate social inequalities that serve the interests of those who control its modes of production and distribution  –  the systems and structures that regulate meme change and flow. Keywords : Alexander, banishment, dialectic, social power, nonsense, landscape, mythology, meme. 1.0: Introduction There have been 5 mass extinction events during the Earth’s natural history. These are as follows:   i)   Ordovician-Silurian (445-400 million years ago) ii)   Late Devonian (375-359 million years ago) iii)   Permian (252 million years ago) iv)   Triassic-Jurassic (201 million years ago) v)   Cretaceous-Tertiary (66 million years ago) It is generally accepted that in the last four mass extinction events between 80-90% of existing species became extinct. After each event the natural world gradually recovered with new environmental conditions favouring the emergence of new species. Without the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction event that corresponded with the decline of the dinosaurs and the ‘mammalian explosion’ that followed , it is unlikely that humans would have emerged as a species. Despite mass extinction events erasing much of the natural world, life reasserts itself on the smudged pages of the Earth’s environment. Paleontologists use those smudges to reconstruct the chronology of past events so that the human race can know or at least infer how it came to be and the jeopardy ahead that is inescapable. A problem for humans is how best to comprehend and represent huge temporal and spatial horizons and the events that occur therein. Chronologies and maps are useful methods of representing what is otherwise incomprehensible but these come at a cost. The cost is authorship  , as it is the author or/and the author’s patron who  together promulgate mythologies and bias (intentionally or not) coalescing with that which is real. Orwell famou sly penned in his novel 1984; ‘ All history was a   palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary .’ [1]. It warns the reader that the past may be represented to serve the interests of an authority that holds dominant social power. Manufactured fictitious events can be planted in the past and used to satisfy the need for justifying further control measures, entitlements, prestige and to validate emergent ideology. The first stage in that process is the deletion of historical and cultural memory which equates to a mass extinction event. The act of ‘scraping clean’ can be applied to any media, be it the paper page or the landscape and once the prior symbolism has been erased a new symbolism and new meaning can be authored, presented, legitimised and in the concluding stage, reproduced.    2.0: Investigating Banishment and Landscape (Methodology): A prerequisite for the act of banishment requires that an inequality of social power exists: master and slave, patron and patronised, ruler and ruled. The physical heterogeneity of landscape and the semiotic meaning that its symbolism connotes may be successfully utilised to reinforce that division of social power. This paper sets out to examine that banishment dialectic using a broad array of sources. The methodology deployed to provide such an examination will be heterodox as this approach has the advantage of enabling the author to switch between the Western mythological canon and de facto   accounts of modern banishment. Moreover, the conflation in the writing of Greek, Roman and Renaissance natural historians between fantastic creatures, real creatures and moral purpose will further attend to the question of how it is that landscapes mirror patterns of social power. 3.0: Alexande r’s Quest to the End of the World and the Caspian Gates: The Hereford mappa mundi (13th century) shows a gate in the north 1  near Scythia. This gate is referred to as the Caspian Gate or Alexander’s Gate and it exists upon the map because during the 13th century The Greek Alexander Romances   were popular tales in which the Macedonian leader, who lived 1500 years earlier was reinvented and mythologised. Figure 1: Hereford mappa mundi (1285):  Alexander’s Gate is located as position 5. [β]   1  The Hereford mappa mundi follows the T-O cartographic tradition where the north is located to the left side of the map, therefore what the reader may think is the west using modern cartographic convention should be read as the north. To the medieval mind Alexander was not the son of Philip of Macedonia but of an Egyptian magician called Nectanebo who impregnated  Alexander’s mother (Olympias) when disguised as the Libyan God Ammon. Later Alexander kills Nectanebo and defeats the Persian King Darius and others on his ascent to greatness but the following encounters described in Book II of The Greek Alexander Romances   are of greatest interest in terms of mythology and quest: “ Then I took guides, intending to go deep into the desert, in the direction of the constellation of the Plough. They counselled against going that way because of the number of wild beasts that live in those regions. However, I took no notice of them and set-out. We soon came to a land full of ravines, where the way was narrow and  precipitous……in this place we saw beasts of all kinds, all quite unfamiliar to us. After we had crossed it, we came to an even more desolate place. Here we found a great forest of trees called anaphanda, with a strange and unfamiliar fruit: they were like apples, but of the size of melons. There were also people in that wood, called Phytoi, who were 36 feet tall, their necks alone being 2 feet in length, and their feet an enormous size. I could not believe my eyes when I saw them, and gave orders to capture one; but when we charged them, shouting and blowing our trumpets, they ran away. We killed thirty-two of them, and they killed 100 of our soldiers. We spent some time there, eating fruit  . ”  (Book II, para. 32) [3]. Alexander continued upon his quest towards the edges of the civilised world and next encounters round wild men among other uncivilised creatures: “ Then we set out and came to a green country where there were wild men like giants, spherical in shape, with fiery expressions like lions. After them were another people, the Ochliate, who had no hair on their bodies, were six feet tall and as broad as a lance. When they saw us, they ran towards us. They were dressed in lions’ skins, very strong and ready to fight without weapons. We fought them, but they struck us with logs and killed a good many of us. I was afraid they might put our men to flight, and so I ordered fires to be lit in the forest. When these mighty men saw the fire, they ran away. But they had killed 180 soldiers  . ”  (Book II, para. 33) [4]. Despite these perils the erstwhile Alexander continued and encountered beasts that resembled   lions with three eyes, fleas as big as frogs and a huge man covered in hair. Alexander attempted to pacify the creature with the gift of a naked woman but the creature eats the woman with gnashing teeth. The natives were disturbed by the noise of the devouring and barked like dogs but as they were afraid of fire could be easily encouraged to retreat.  Alexander’s army next encounter a river that contains trees that grow at sunrise but cease to grow on the sixth hour and shrink to miniature size on the seventh hour. The sap from the trees smell of Persian myrrh but when members of the army attempt to extract sap the men are whipped by invisible spirits. A voice emanates from the river commanding the soldiers to stop on penalty of being struck dumb. The river contains black stones that cause anyone who touches one to turn black and the fish from the river cook in freezing cold water. Birds around the river are familiar to Alexander but when touched fire is discharged. It is at this point that  Alexander’s army is accompanied by beasts with six feet and others with between 3 and 5 eyes and 15 feet in length. However, this is not a happy company and Alexander’s soldiers kill many of the beasts with bow and arrows. Alexander further continued and encountered headless men who ate fish and mushrooms. While his advisors urged Alexander to return home, he refused because he is determined to reach the end of the world. After passing through desert, where the sky remains black, Alexander reaches the ocean and commands his army to construct boats and sail across to an island. As soldiers alight from the boats and swim to the island giant crabs appear and drag the unfortunates under the water to their death. Alexander then descends into the ocean in a giant  jar attached to a chain with a sealed hole in the bottom that once on the sea bed could be opened to allow the gathering of sediment. It is claimed that Alexander descends 464 feet and observed many splendid fish. After this episode, Alexander once more marched on to a land where the sun does not shine  –  the end of the world. Two birds with human faces and conversant in Greek rebuke Alexander for his quest and tell him that the ‘Isles of the Blessed’ are not for him to trespass. He is instructed to return east to the former Kingdom of Porus. After a further 22 days of journeying Alexander returned into the light, encamped and commissioned an arch to be erected over a ravine that stated: “ If you want to get to the Land of the Blessed, keep to the right, or you will get lost  .” (Book II, para. 41). [5].  An alternative account provides that the arch stated: “ Alexander came here and erected an arch over which the whole army crossed; his intention was to reach the end of the Earth, if Providence approved his plan  .” (‘’ recension, Book II, para. 37) [6]. Alexander is then struck by a moment of empirical revelation and to verify that he had travelled near to the end of the world instructed his soldiers to capture two large white birds that fed on carrion such as dead horses. The two birds were starved for three days then a yoke tied to their necks and a bag made of ox-skin large enough for Alexander to climb into attached. Alexander then enters the bag holding two 10 foot spears with horse liver attached to the pointed end of each. Using this mechanism, Alexander ascended until he encountered a human figure flying towards him. The figure entreated him to return to Earth, pointed down and advised that Alexander should descend towards the zone that looked like a threshing floor and not the snake as that is the ocean that surrounds the Earth, ergo, the threshing floor is land. Alexander then returned to Earth seven days journey away from his encampment. He was satisfied that he should travel on his quest to the end of the world no further.  Alexander’s journey illustrates the view that there is a locus of civilisation and the further away an individual moves the less civility that individual will encounter. Monsters, ungodly magical landscapes and perils await any hero who intends to explore distant uncivilised lands. Moreover, there is a Divine intolerance of Alexander’s determination  to reach the end of the world. Even a hero must submit and be humble to the Christian Divine and foreigners from distant landscapes are effectively ungodly, unclean, dangerous and subordinate to the will of the civilised. 4.0: Alexander’s Account of the  Unclean Nations: T he ‘’ recension of the The Greek Alexander Romances  2   describes in Book III that the leader of 2   This is a synthesis of two earlier versions (α and ) that dates to the 7th to 8th centuries AD.   the Belsyrians named Eurymithres plotted to attack Alexander but his army failed and fled. Eurymithres was caught but others were chased northwards for fifty days until two mountains were reached that separated the seen from the unseen world. The mountains were called the ‘Breasts of the North’.  Alexander prayed that the mountains should move towards each other and imprison the fleeing Belsyrians. The mountains came together having been srcinally 18 feet apart. A bronze gate was constructed between the narrows of the two mountains and these could not be dislodged by fire or iron and brambles were planted for a distance of 3000 miles in the open countryside providing a natural wall over and around the mountains. The gates were named Caspian and additionally imprisoned 22 kings and their nations: Goth, Magoth, Anougeis, Aigeis, Exenach, Diphar, Photinaioi, Pharizaioi, Zarmatianoi, Chachonioi, Agrimardoi, Anouphagoi, Tharbioi, Alans, Physolonikaioi, Saltarioi and the rest 3 . These peoples ate snakes, flies, dogs, aborted foetuses, unformed human embryos and dead bodies. Alexander was concerned that they might return and pollute the world, so he shut them in and went on his way. This place is located on the Hereford mappa mundi (see Fig. 1). 5.0: Pollution - Matter out of Place:  Anthropologist Mary Douglas’ thesis titled: Purity and Danger  –  An analysis of the concepts of pollution and taboo   provides a pivotal idea that is encapsulated by the following quote: “It may seem that in a culture which is richly organised by ideas of contagion and purification the individual is in the grip of iron-hard categories of thought which are heavily safeguarded by rules of avoidance and by punishments. It may seem impossible for such a person to shake his own thought free of the protected habit-grooves of his culture”.  [7]. Gog and Magog (Goth and Magoth) connote the worst of pollutants and matter to be kept in a distant place. These unclean tribes are referenced in the Bible   and Koran   as well as The Greek Alexander Romances  , Travels of Sir John Mandeville   and the Travels of Marco Polo  . 3  There is no further information naming the rest. The geographical location of Gog and Magog was thought to be in the north; the tribes held behind  Alexander’s G ate. The Book of Revelation   at the end of the Bible   does not designate a geographical location for Gog and Magog but prophesises: “  When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the Earth  — Gog and Magog  — and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. ”    [8]. In the Koran  , Allah threatens to unleash the dam of Gog and Magog. Gog and Magog are peoples who are considered mischievous and have been imprisoned by an iron wall between two mountains by a king named Dhul-Qarnayn. Gog and Magog are tribes that have a similar role in both Judeo-Christian and Islamic mythology  –  the unworthy, uncivilised, morally inferior archetype. These mythologies infer that in the next mass extinction event (the human extinction) it is these tribes that will be the instruments of destruction. This particular meme of nonsense no doubt served the social power interests of the pure and civilised priestly castes but influenced cartographers who were attempting to comprehend and represent huge spatial horizons based upon the best learning of their period. It is argued that the mountains that imprisoned the unclean tribes described in The Greek Alexander Romances   are most likely based upon Derbent in Russia which acts as a natural gate to the Caucasus. Derbent is an ancient city with archaeological structures over 5000 years old. The city developed between two walls which stretched from the mountains to the sea and were used as fortifications for over 1000 years. Derbent’s natural landscape and human modification of its environment acted as a palimpsest upon which mythological accounts could be written. The unknown author/s of The Greek Alexander Romances   rewrote the life of Alexander the Great and rewrote the history of Derbent. This monstrous nonsense served a political purpose: 1. Extraordinary leadership flows in royal blood. 2. There are civilised and uncivilised inhabitants on Earth which is determined by place.   3. The Judeo-Christian Divine places limits even upon heroes and their quests. 4. The uncivilised will inevitably pollute and corrupt civilised space and must be banished. 5. The banished will try to destroy their civilised persecutors. The apocalyptic crescendo of Gog and Magog provides an effective narrative to control attitudes towards heterodoxy. This Judeo-Christian and Islamic mythology asserts the case for a hero who will subjugate the banished and put them back in a distant dirty space whereas the pure will reclaim their unpolluted space and enjoy their higher caste status. Alexander’s Gate on the Hereford mappa mundi identifies for the traveller the locale in which the actors of the apocalypse are to be found. For mythology the ‘end of days’ equates to mass extinction. Earth science attests that mass extinctions are inevitable and it is no surprise that on a qualitative level that human cultures sense impermanence on a collective level and this reality has been used to exploit. The Greek Alexander Romances   were written to legitimise inequality of social power which in turn was written upon a landscape and its cartographic representation. 6.0: Space, Power, Myth and Banishment: As 13th and 14th century cartographers attempted to represent the world as a fact, so it must follow that mythologies of The Greek Alexander Romances   were represented as fact. Identified upon maps are zones of banishment, contagious danger, monsters, darkness, impurity and terror in waiting. When such zones exist there must be an antithesis, a space for heroes, purity and reason. Islands have been used in fact and fiction as places of escape but more frequently as landscapes of banishment. The physical detachment of islands from a mainland has rendered these spaces uncivilised and dangerous. As a metaphor islands are the refuge of the shipwrecked and the escapee, a place to hide or be imprisoned.  7.0: Islands of Banishment: Islands have been much used in the service of banishment. Geographical isolation limits the risk of escape and liberation from external intervention. Odysseus was imprisoned twice on islands in the Homeric epic. The nymph Calypso keeps Odysseus on an island named Ogygia for seven years until the Goddess Athena intervenes and sends Hermes to deliver a message to Calypso to release him which she feels compelled to do. Odysseus later finds himself under the gaze of Circe who had been banished by her father to the island of Aeaea for murdering her husband Prince Colchis. Circe turns Odysseus’s men into pigs but again Hermes intercedes and advises Odysseus to eat an herb named moly   to protect him from Circe’s drug induced enchantment. After Odysseus overwhelms Circe and she reverses her magic, Odysseus remains on the island for one year before journeying further to Hades to meet the blind prophet Tiresias. Odysseus’ difficulty in ret urning to Ithaca after the Trojan War is because he forgot to thank the gods for his victory and the god Poseidon took against him. Odysseus saw himself as more than a mere mortal in the universe and in forgetting his place in the cosmological order was banished to an island. His escape was only secured due to the intervention of Athena and her messenger Hermes. In contrast to myth, Gyaros, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea was famed for being an island of exile during the early Roman Empire. The Emperor Tiberius took pity on an official named Silanus who had been accused of treason and decided not to send him to Gyaros because of its inhospitable environment. Instead, Silanus was banished to Amorgos another Greek island but Gyaros nearly 2000 years later made a return as a landscape of banishment. During the 20th century many thousands of men were imprisoned on Gyaros for membership of the Greek Liberation Front (Ethniko Apeleftherotiko Metopo) during World War II. Further banishment and imprisonment took place against dissidents opposing the Greek military junta that ruled Greece (1967-74). Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn uses the metaphor of an archipelago to describe the spatial relationship between gulags 4 , which were forced labour camps 4  Gulag - Glavnoe Upravleni e ispravitel’no -trudovykh LAGerei (Main Administration of Corrective Labour Camps)
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