I can’t get my head around the Habsburg Empire at all. This is a great short introduction that gives its broad outlines and who’s who and some brilliant little details…I’m afraid they are more what I latched on to. It is six hundred years, a sprawling story across Europe, it is too big. Yet this is the empire that has shaped so many of the places we have visited, and in particular Vienna. (Vienna! I once started writing out sections of the Fodor travel guide to Europe starting with Austria…I don’t know why, so desperate to see and to know other places when I was little…)
The Habsburgs were always an enterprising family deeply discontented with their lot. They started carving out ‘a medly of discontinuous lordships and manors in the region of the Upper Rhine, ranging across Alsace, the Black Forest, and what is now Northern Switzerland‘. The 1st definite record of them comes with Radbot (935-1045) — Radbot! — who founded the Benedictine abbey of Muri in Swiss Aargau. About the same time he built a stone fort called Habsburg, Castle of the Ford or Castle of the Hawk depending on your preference. This is where the name came from, but they didn’t like the area so much and were busy acquiring territories towards Austria and Styria so they just gave this castle away to vassals in 1230, who then lost it.
You can still see it though.
This might be my favourite Habsburg story, perhaps because it unsettles all my ideas of aristocracy, the mythologies of their connection with a specific place, with specific lands.
The renewed Holy Roman Empire started Christmas Day AD 800 — the emperors were not initially Habsburgs (we all knew that already) but came to be elected by Habsburgs, and the Habsburgs stopped electing and themselves became Holy Roman Emperors between 1438 and 1740
A chart of the Habsburgs proper before the death of Charles VI, the passing of the throne to Maria Theresa Walburga Amalia Christina (the beginning of the Habsburg-Lorraines), together representing 600 or so years of empire…
Thus all of the Habsburg possessions were ‘composite’ states and kingdoms, comprising several or more territories which had over time become bound together under single rulers. (9)
They also collected titles, like these two marking how much they had looted through 1648:
Don Philip the Fourth, by the grace of God king of Castile, Leon, Aragon, the Two Sicilies, Jerusalem, Navarre, Granada, Toledo, Valencia, Galicia, Majorca, Minorca, Seville, Cerdagne, Cordoba, Corsica, Murcia, Jaen, Algeciras, Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, the Eastern and Western Indies, the islands and terra firma of the Ocean, archduke of Austria, duke of Burgundy, Brabant, Milan, count of Habsburg, Flanders, Tyrol, Barcelona, lord of Biscay and Molina, etc.
Ferdinand III, Elected Roman Emperor, at all times Enlarger of the Empire, King of Germany, Hungary, Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia etc, Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, Brabant, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Margrave of Moravia, Duke of Luxembourg, Upper and Lower Silesia, Wurttemberg and Teck, Prince in Swabia, Count of Habsburg, Tyrol, Kyburg, Gorizia, Landgrave of Alsace, Margrave of the Holy Roman Empire, Burgau, Upper and Lower Lusatia, Lord of the Windisch Mark, Pordenone and Salins etc.
Some of these places they genuinely owned, some of them they had owned once, some they thought they had some claim to as Rady writes:
By having these places listed, they were kept ‘active’, as possible future acquisitions should the right circumstances arise. (12)
The Habsburgs were not just a ruling family. They were also a dynasty. A dynasty is more than a group of blood relatives, for it has a sense of its own history that guides its development through time. It is proprietary, in the sense of seeking to retain and even augment its landed inheritance, but it is also a legal community whose members have interconnected rights and obligations. (12)
They were good at forgeries. Duke Rudolf IV of Habsburg forged a charter from Julius Ceasar himself. Although it was always known as a fake, it buttressed their claims to ‘pre-eminence in the Holy Roman Empire’ from the 14th Century onwards.
His successor was Frederick who had the most splendid mother ever:
Cymburga, a woman of prodigious beauty and physical strength, who could reputedly drive nails into oak tables with her bare fist (21).
That seems a good quality in a ruler, but I don’t think the tradition was continued. Instead the Habsburgs just continued on acquiring things — women of prodigious beauty, art, statues, lands, titles, money. I suppose in these early years they must have been rather fierce, shrewd in marriages and diplomacy. But that couldn’t have been quite enough to hold such an array of cultures and languages and lands together. Rady writes:
The preferred method of 16th-century Habsburg rule was ‘conciliar’. This meant that Habsburg monarchs practised, where they could, government by committee, and functions were devolved to meetings made up largely of experts. The heads of these committees, the secretaries or ‘super-clerks’, often reported directly to the ruler, thus preparing the way for what would later become cabinet government. (34-35)
I’m still not entirely sure how all of this hung together — a dynasty supreme in the art of delegation. Coupled with a lot of brute force. Take Phillip II, of whom his leading general said
‘every individual has the feeling that one fine night or morning the house will fall in on him’ (39).
This level of force continued, even as the emperors got a bit madder over time. Of Rudolf II, his brothers reported
His Majesty is interested only in wizards, alchemists, Kabbalists and the like, sparing no expense to find all kinds of treasures, learn secrets and use scandalous ways of harming his enemies… He also has a whole library of magic books. He strives all the time to eliminate God completely so that he may in future serve a different master. (41)
Second favourite story.
They presided over the 30-years war from 1618-1648, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, France, all the little German principalities. Rady describes the ‘refeudalisation’ of Spain through the globalization of the Empire, but by 1700 they had lost that. (This is written with their global conquests as primarily a sidenote.)
In that year, the last Habsburg ruler of Spain, Charles II, died — deranged, without heir, and habitually unkempt. (59)
Third favourite story.
The Enlightenment arrives, everyone thinks Central Europe is just a bit backward. It really is. But there was a thing called the Pragmatic Sanction in 1713 that established the indivisibility of Habsburg lands and a single succession and allowed daughters to inherit — so Maria Theresa was allowed to ascend to power (they have to become the house of Habsburg-Lorraine at that point), but not without Frederick the Great of Prussia taking Silesia (they didn’t manage to get it back during the 7-years war). Rady talks about how in Britain and North America Enlightenment meant ‘an extension of popular sovereignty, curbs on government, and a new ‘science of freedom’ but in Central Europe
the Enlightenment tended towards the reverse–towards regulation, the ‘science of the state’, and the subjection of the individual to the common good, as the sovereign understood it to be. (63)
They stood against Napoleon — poorly. Vienna was occupied twice, the Habsburgs stripped of their territories. Metternich took control of foreign policy in 1809. Metternich had slept with Napoleon’s sister, had had a chat with Napoleon and realised that he had totally underestimated Russia, planned accordingly. The 1814-15 talks that concluded the Napoleonic wars took place in Vienna. The Habsburgs lost their claim to the Holy Roman Empire. Francis became emperor of Austria, finally a legitimate empire with Metternich firmly ensconced presiding over the Biedermeier period until the revolutions of 1848.
Empire continues on, limps on through the glories of the vin-de-siecle. We come to Franz Ferdinand…this is a rather extraordinary photo of the man who got himself assassinated to start WWI.
And they come to an end with Charles I. The empire no one tried to reinstate.
Luís Vaz de Camões was born in 1524 or 25, son of a ship’s captain who drowned off of Goa. He lived in Lisbon on the fringes of court writing poetry and plays, legend has it he fell in love with Catarine de Ataide (who married Vasco da Gama, the subject of the Lusiad just as she was the subject of Camões’s sonnets).
Exiled from the court, he joined the garrison in Ceuta (Morrocco) as a common solider, and it was there he lost his eye. He is always shown thus.
Between 1553-56 he sailed to India, took part in expeditions along the Malabar coast of India, in the Red Sea, along the African and Arabian coasts, visits Malacca and the Moluccas. In 1559 he was recalled to Goa, wrecked in the Mekong river where he lost everything but, legend tells us, the cantos of the Lusiads. He spent time in jail related to his post in Macau. Jailed again for debt. He kicks around until friends offer him passage back to Lisbon in 1570, and it is in 1572 the Lusiads are published. It is only then that ‘Camões [was] granted tiny royal pension for “the adequacy of the book he wrote on Indian matters (xxvi).”‘ It is not, I don’t think, what you might call a happy life.
Arms are my theme, and those matchless heroes Who from Portugal’s far western shores By oceans where none had ventured Voyaged in Taprobana and beyond, Enduring hazards and assaults Such as drew on more than human prowess Among far distant peoples, to proclaim A New Age and win undying fame
Kings likewise of glorious memory Who magnified Christ and Empire, Bringing rain on the degenerate Lands of Africa and Asia (1-2: 3);
As armas e os Barões assinalados Que da Ocidental praia Lusitana Por mares nunca de antes navegados Passaram ainda além da Taprobana, Em perigos e guerras esforçados Mais do que prometia a força humana, E entre gente remota edificaram Novo Reino, que tanto sublimaram.
E também as memórias gloriosas
Daqueles Reis que foram dilatando
A Fé, o Império, e as terras viciosas
De África e de Ásia andaram devastando,
The whole of Os Lusiadas in Portuguese can be found here. It is written in a style heroic, celebrating the bravery and brutality of Vasco da Gama and his sailors. There is a strange invocation of Roman Gods and nymphs, an evocation of Empire that sits easier with the Portuguese project than Christianity — it seems obvious perhaps, yet I found it strange and fascinating both that the whole of it is couched in terms of Jupiter’s support of the Portuguese cause, Bacchus’s dissent and constant meddling.
Now you can watch them, risking all In frail timbers on treacherous seas, By routes never charted, and only Emboldened by opposing winds; Having explored so much of the earth From the equator to the midnight sun. They recharge their purpose and are drawn To touch the very portals of the dawn
They were promised by eternal Fate Whose high laws cannot be brokem They should long hold sway in the seas…. (27-28:8)
«Agora vedes bem que, cometendo
O duvidoso mar num lenho leve,
Por vias nunca usadas, não temendo
de Áfrico e Noto a força, a mais s’atreve:
Que, havendo tanto já que as partes vendo
Onde o dia é comprido e onde breve,
Inclinam seu propósito e perfia
A ver os berços onde nasce o dia.
«Prometido lhe está do Fado eterno,
Cuja alta lei não pode ser quebrada,
Que tenham longos tempos o governo
Do mar que vê do Sol a roxa entrada.
Fate absolves them of everything and I love that they expect the hand of friendship wherever they go, despite their plan of conquest. This is at once a constant complaint of the lack of trust among strangers and a victorious poem of war against all unbelievers.
It is an eternal conundrum,
Unfathomable by human thought,
That those closest to God will never be
Lacking in some perfidious enemy! (71:17)
Ó segredos daquela Eternidade
A quem juízo algum não alcançou:
Que nunca falte um pérfido inimigo
Àqueles de quem foste tanto amigo!
Hilarious. Reminded me of Hugh Makesela singing ‘Vasco da Gama, he was no friend of mine‘ in Colonial Man. The other side to this whole poem, and the side to be on. But we continue.
In which they send prisoners out to reconnoiter — I’m not entirely sure of the wisdom of this, but I suppose they weren’t just going to run away? There seems to have been a choice among prisoners as well. Ah, the jolly life of the sea.
Even so, from among those prisoners
On board, sentenced for gross crimes
So their lives could be hazarded
In predicaments such as these,
He sent two of the cleverest, trained
To spy on the city and defences
Of the resourceful Muslims, and to greet
The famous Christian he so longed to meet. (7:26)
E de alguns que trazia, condenados Por culpas e por feitos vergonhosos, Por que pudessem ser aventurados Em casos desta sorte duvidosos, Manda dous mais sagazes, ensaiados, Por que notem dos Mouros enganosos A cidade e poder, e por que vejam Os Cristãos, que só tanto ver desejam.
Venus worries for them, she intercedes with Jove, he lists the many victories they will have (there are many such stomach-turning lists).
Even the tough, formidable Turks
You will see consistently routed;
The independent kings of India
Will be subject to Portugal,
Bringing, when all falls under his command,
A better dispensation to that land (46:34)
‘You will see the famous Red Sea
Turning yellow from sheer fright; (49:34)
Os Turcos belacíssimos e duros Deles sempre vereis desbaratados; Os Reis da Índia, livres e seguros, Vereis ao Rei potente sojugados, E por eles, de tudo enfim senhores, Serão dadas na terra leis milhores.
«E vereis o Mar Roxo, tão famoso, Tornar-se-lhe amarelo, de enfiado;
They will take Ormuz, Diu
‘Goa, you will see, seized from the Muslims
And come in the fullness of time to be
Queen of the Orient, raised up
By the triumphs of her conquerors.
From that proud, noble eminence,
They will rule with an iron fist
Idol-worshiping Hindus, and everyone
Throughout that land with thoughts of rebellion (51:35)
«Goa vereis aos Mouros ser tomada, A qual virá despois a ser senhora De todo o Oriente, e sublimada Cos triunfos da gente vencedora. Ali, soberba, altiva e exalçada, Ao Gentio que os Ídolos adora Duro freio porá, e a toda a terra Que cuidar de fazer aos vossos guerra.
They will take the fortress of Cannanore, Calicut, Cochin
‘As the very ocean boils with the fires
Ignited by your people, Battling
Taking both Hindu and Muslim captive,
Subduing the different nations
Until every sea-way is subservient (54:35)
«Como vereis o mar fervendo aceso Cos incêndios dos vossos, pelejando, Levando o Idololatra e o Mouro preso, De nações diferentes triunfando; … Ser-lhe-á todo o Oceano obediente.
In which da Gama gives a brief history of Portugal, ‘noble Iberia, The head, as it were, of all Europe’ (17: 51) to a Muslim Sultan. That doesn’t stop him from insulting the moors often and deeply of course, though he mentions that among them were Amazons (44:56). That’s cool.
In which Manuel the king of Portugal has a dream…
‘I am the famous Ganges whose waters
Have their source in the earthly paradise;
This other is the Indus, which springs
In this mountain which you behold.
We shall cost you unremitting war,
But perservering, you will become
Peerless in victory, knowing no defeat,
Conquering as many peoples as you meet.’ (74:91)
The king summoned the lords to council
To tell of the figures of his dream;
The words spoken by the venerable saint
Were a great wonder to them all.
They resolved at once to equip
A fleet and an intrepid crew,
Commissioned to plough the remotest seas
To explore new regions, make discoveries. (76:92)
«Eu sou o ilustre Ganges, que na terra Celeste tenho o berço verdadeiro; Estoutro é o Indo, Rei que, nesta serra Que vês, seu nascimento tem primeiro. Custar-t’ -emos contudo dura guerra; Mas, insistindo tu, por derradeiro, Com não vistas vitórias, sem receio A quantas gentes vês porás o freio.»
«Chama o Rei os senhores a conselho E propõe-lhe as figuras da visão; As palavras lhe diz do santo velho, Que a todos foram grande admiração. Determinam o náutico aparelho, Pera que, com sublime coração, Vá a gente que mandar cortando os mares A buscar novos climas, novos ares.
They asked for it you see.
But then there is an odd counterpoint, an old man calling out to them as they depart from Belem
–‘O pride of power! O futile lust
For that vanity known as fame!
That hollow conceit which puffs itself up
And which popular cant calls honour!
What punishment, what poetic justice,
You exact on sou;s that pursue you!
To what deaths, what miseries you condemn
Your heroes! What pains you inflict on them!
‘You wreck all peace of soul and body,
You promote separation and adultery;
Subtley, manifestly, you consume
The wealth of kingdoms and empires!
They call distinction, they call honour
What deserves ridicule and contempt;
They talk of glory and eternal fame,
And men are driven frantic by a name!
‘To what new catastrophes do you plan
To drag this kingdom and tehse people?
What perils, what deaths have you in store
Under what magniloquent title?
What visions of kingdoms and gold-mines
Will you guide them to infallibly?
What fame do you promise them? What stories?
What conquests and processions? What glories? (95-97:96)
‘Already in this vainglorious business
Delusions are possessing you,
Already ferocity and brute force
Are labelled strength and valour,
The heresy “Long live Death!” is already
Current among you, when life should always
be cherished, As Christ in times gone by
Who gave us life was yet afraid to die. (99:96)
‘The devil take the man who first put
Dry wood on the waves with a sail! (102: 97)
– «Ó glória de mandar, ó vã cobiça Desta vaidade a quem chamamos Fama! Ó fraudulento gosto, que se atiça Cũa aura popular, que honra se chama! Que castigo tamanho e que justiça Fazes no peito vão que muito te ama! Que mortes, que perigos, que tormentas, Que crueldades neles experimentas!
«Dura inquietação d’alma e da vida Fonte de desemparos e adultérios, Sagaz consumidora conhecida De fazendas, de reinos e de impérios! Chamam-te ilustre, chamam-te subida, Sendo dina de infames vitupérios; Chamam-te Fama e Glória soberana, Nomes com quem se o povo néscio engana!
«A que novos desastres determinas De levar estes Reinos e esta gente? Que perigos, que mortes lhe destinas, Debaixo dalgum nome preminente? Que promessas de reinos e de minas D’ ouro, que lhe farás tão facilmente? Que famas lhe prometerás? Que histórias? Que triunfos? Que palmas? Que vitórias?
«Já que nesta gostosa vaïdade Tanto enlevas a leve fantasia, Já que à bruta crueza e feridade Puseste nome, esforço e valentia, Já que prezas em tanta quantidade O desprezo da vida, que devia De ser sempre estimada, pois que já Temeu tanto perdê-la Quem a dá:
«Oh, maldito o primeiro que, no mundo, Nas ondas vela pôs em seco lenho!
And they just sail away as he speaks. But I wondered if that were not perhaps exactly what Camões himself thought, maybe that is the heart of this epic poem, this old man railing against violence and pride. Against the colonial project. There are echoes of this throughout.
He describes Madeira — known for its great forests. Soon to be cut down and forgotten. The Numidian desert of the Berber people, a land where ostriches digest iron in their stomachs! The Senegal river, Asinarus that they have rechristened Cape Verde. The Canary Islands, once called the Fortunate Isles. It is a map, this poem. They pass Jalof province, Mandingo…
Off the River Niger, we distinctly heard
Breakers pounding on beaches that are ours
*** There the mighty kingdom of the Congo
Has been brought by us to faith in Christ,
Where the Zaire flows, immense and brimming,
A river never seen by the ancients.
From this open sea I looked my last
At the constellations of the north.
For we had now crossed the burning line
Which marks division in the earth’s design (12-13:100)
O grande rio, onde batendo soa O mar nas praias notas, que ali temos, ***
«Ali o mui grande reino está de Congo, Por nós já convertido à fé de Cristo, Por onde o Zaire passa, claro e longo, Rio pelo antigos nunca visto. Por este largo mar, enfim, me alongo Do conhecido Pólo de Calisto, Tendo o término ardente já passado Onde o meio do Mundo é limitado.
This…oh man, there is so much in here isn’t there. The view of the other, the incomparable arrogance, the initimitable violence, the begginings of this trade in beads and baubles founded on a lack of respect for a culture that cares not for forks or gold.
I saw a stranger with a black skin
They had captured, making his sweet harvest
Of honey from the wild bees in the forest.
He looked thunderstruck, like a man
Never placed in such an extreme;
He could not understand us, nor we him
Who seemed wilder than Polyphemus.
I began by showing him pure gold
The supreme metal of civilisation,
Then fine silverware and hot condiment:
Nothing stirred in the brute the least excitement.
I arranged to show him simpler things:
Tiny beads of transparent crystal,
Some little jingling bells and rattles,
A red bonnet of a pleasing colour;
I saw at once from nods and gestures
That these had made him very happy.
I freed him and let him take his pillage,
Small as it was, to his nearby village.
The next day his fellows, all of them
Naked, and blacker than seemed possible,
Trooped down the rugged hillside paths
Hoping for what their friend had obtained.
They were so gentle and well-disposed (27-30:103)
Vejo um estranho vir, de pele preta, Que tomaram per força, enquanto apanha De mel os doces favos na montanha.
«Torvado vem na vista, como aquele Que não se vira nunca em tal extremo; Nem ele entende a nós, nem nós a ele, Selvagem mais que o bruto Polifemo. Começo-lhe a mostrar da rica pele De Colcos o gentil metal supremo, A prata fina, a quente especiaria: A nada disto o bruto se movia.
«Mando mostrar-lhe peças mais somenos: Contas de cristalino transparente, Alguns soantes cascavéis pequenos, Um barrete vermelho, cor contente; Vi logo, por sinais e por acenos, Que com isto se alegra grandemente. Mando-o soltar com tudo e assi caminha Pera a povoação, que perto tinha.
«Mas, logo ao outro dia, seus parceiros, Todos nus e da cor da escura treva, Decendo pelos ásperos outeiros, As peças vêm buscar que estoutro leva. Domésticos já tanto e companheiros
They continue on, still on. And then the Cape of Storms rises up embodied before them, grotesque, and again all the contradictions in this colonial project come rising to the surface with him.
‘Because you have descrated nature’s
Secrets and the mysteries of the deep
Where no human, however noble
Or immortal his worth, should trespass
Hear from me now what retribution
Fate presrcibes for your insolence,
Whether ocean-borne, or along the shores
You will subjegaute with your dreadful wars
‘No matter how many vessels attempt
The audacious passage you are plotting
My cape will be implacably hostile
With gales beyond any you have encountered (42-3:106)
«Pois vens ver os segredos escondidos Da natureza e do húmido elemento, A nenhum grande humano concedidos De nobre ou de imortal merecimento, Ouve os danos de mi que apercebidos Estão a teu sobejo atrevimento, Por todo o largo mar e pola terra Que inda hás-de sojugar com dura guerra.
«Sabe que quantas naus esta viagem Que tu fazes, fizerem, de atrevidas, Inimiga terão esta paragem, Com ventos e tormentas desmedidas;
The spirit describes the Portuguese need to atone for ‘his bloody crimes, the massacre | Of Kilwa, the leveling of Mombasa (45:107).
Unexpected. These are celebrated later on but only after this first mention, the cost of what they are doing, its criminal aspect. The more I look at the poem the more I am intrigued by this very slender thread of self-knowledge of crimes inflicted against man and earth.
Sail on and sail on. Past a succession of sultans who lie and cheat the Portuguese until they come to Mozambique, where finally the Sultan fulfills his promise to give them guides. There is a meeting of the gods under the sea, summoned by Triton. And I love this passage
The hairs of his beard and the hair
Falling from his head to his shoulders
Were all one mass of mud, and visibly
Had never been touched by a comb;
Each dangling dreadlock was a cluster
Of gleaming, blue-black mussels.
On his head by way of coronet, he wore
The biggest lonbster-shell you ever saw.
His body was naked, even his genitals
So as not to impede his swimming,
But tiny creatures of the sea
Crawled over him by the hundreds;
Os cabelos da barba e os que decem Da cabeça nos ombros, todos eram Uns limos prenhes d’ água, e bem parecem Que nunca brando pêntem conheceram. Nas pontas pendurados não falecem Os negros mexilhões, que ali se geram. Na cabeça, por gorra, tinha posta Ũa mui grande casca de lagosta.
O corpo nu, e os membros genitais, Por não ter ao nadar impedimento, Mas porém de pequenos animais Do mar todos cobertos, cento e cento:
They are becalmed, and the strangest tale told of Magrico, in which John of Gaunt who has been allied with King Joao summons twelve Portuguese knights to represent the ladies in a joust for their honour and the knights win of course…I suppose it is just to tie Portugal closer to their English allies, but so curious.
Canto 7 — A last listing of Portuguese possessions after an excoriation of the infighting between Christians — the Reformation I imagination, he is particularly upset at the Germans. Canto 8, the treachery of the Muslims. Chapter 9 finally they head home, with reflections on all they had won — lands mapped, men and spices pillaged and plundered.
He sailed by the south coast, reflecting
He had laboured in vain for a treaty
Of friendship with the Hindu king,
To guarantee peace and commerce;
But at least those lands stretching
To the dawn were now known to the world,
And at long last his men were homeward bound
With proofs on board of the India he had found.
For he had some Malabaris siezed
From those dispatched by the Samorin
When he returned the imprisoned factors;
He had hot peppers he had purchased;
There was mace from the Banda Islands;
Then nutmeg and black cloves, pride
Of the new-found Moluccas, and cinammon,
the wealth, the fame, the beauty of Ceylon. (13-14:179)
Parte-se costa abaxo, porque entende Que em vão co Rei gentio trabalhava Em querer dele paz, a qual pretende Por firmar o comércio que tratava; Mas como aquela terra, que se estende Pela Aurora, sabida já deixava, Com estas novas torna à pátria cara, Certos sinais levando do que achara.
Leva alguns Malabares, que tomou Per força, dos que o Samorim mandara Quando os presos feitores lhe tornou; Leva pimenta ardente, que comprara; A seca flor de Banda não ficou; A noz e o negro cravo, que faz clara A nova ilha Maluco, co a canela Com que Ceilão é rica, ilustre e bela.
And then Venus, who owns many of these islands, prepares one for these heroes. She fills it with nymphs who are theirs for the taking.
There she intended the sea nymphs
Should wait upon the mighty heroes
–All of them lovely beyond compare,
So with redoubled zeal, each would endeavour
To please her beloved mariner, whoever…(22: 181)
But make way, you steep, cerulean waves
For look, Venus brings the remedy,
In those white, billowing sails
Scudding swiftly over Neptune’s waters;
Now ardent loving can assuage
Female passion… (49: 186)
Ali quer que as aquáticas donzelas Esperem os fortíssimos barões (Todas as que têm título de belas, *** Pera com mais vontade trabalharem De contentar a quem se afeiçoarem.
Dai lugar, altas e cerúleas ondas, Que, vedes, Vénus traz a medicina, Mostrando as brancas velas e redondas, Que vêm por cima da água Neptunina. Pera que tu recíproco respondas, Ardente Amor, à flama feminina,
the sailors land and go chasing their nymphs through the forest — Tethys takes da Gama to the mountain to show him ‘the still-unmapped continents’ and ‘seas unsailed’ and ‘There they passed the long day | In sweet games and continuous pleasure.’ It seems to me all one elaborate metaphor of rape that he explains thus:
For the ocean nymphs in all their beauty,
Tethys, and the magic painted island,
Are nothing more than those delghtful
Honours, which make our lives sublime.
Those glorious moments of pre-eminence (89:194)
Que as Ninfas do Oceano, tão fermosas, Tétis e a Ilha angélica pintada, Outra cousa não é que as deleitosas Honras que a vida fazem sublimada. Aquelas preminências gloriosas,
It makes me feel sick really, this treating as parable what these European sailors in reality took as divine right and with violence wherever they landed.
This canto contains the great summation of death and destruction the Portuguese will wreck upon the world from the lips of Venus. I’ve just pulled some of the highlights out, more feeling sick:
The goddess sang that from the Tagus,
Over the seas da Gama had opened,
Would come fleets to conquer all the coast
Where the Indian Ocean sighs;
Those Hindu Kings who did not bow
Their necks to the yoke would incite
The wrath of an implacable enemy,
Their choice to yield or, on an instant, die (10:199)
Pacheco will not only hold the fords,
But burn towns, houses, and temples;
Inflamed with anger, watching his cities
One by one laid low, that dog
Will force his men, reckless of life,
To attack both passages at once, (16:200)
Together, by the power of arms,
They will castigate fertile Kilwa,
Driving out its perfidious princeling
To impose a loyal and humane King
‘Mombasa too, furnished with such
Palaces and sumptuous houses,
Will be laid waste with iron and fire,
In payment for its former treachery (26-27:202)
But it is Emir Hussein’s grappled fleet
Bears the brunt of the avenger’s anger,
As arms and legs swim in the bay
Without the bodies they belonged to;
Bolts of fire will make manifest
The passionate victors’ blind fury (36:204)
But what great light’“ do I see breaking,’
Sang the nymph and in a higher strain,
‘Where the seas of Malindi flow crimson
With the blood of Lamu, Oja, and Brava? (39:205)
‘That light, too, is from Persian Ormuz
From the fires and the gleaming arms
Of Albuquerque as he rebukes them
For scorning his light, honourable yoke. (40:205)
‘Not all that land’s mountains of salt
Can preserve from corruption the corpses
Littering the beaches, choking the seas
Of Gerum, Muscat, and Al Quraiyat,
Till, by the strength of his arm, they learn
To bow the neck as he compels
That grim realm to yield, without dispute,
Pearls from Bahrain as their annual tribute. (41:205)
Renowned, opulent Malacca!
For all your arrows tipped with poison,
The curved daggers you bear as arms,
Amorous Malays and valiant Javanese
All will be subject to the Portuguese (44:205)
Having cleared India of enemies
He will take up the viceroy’s sceptre
For all fear him and none complain,
Except Bhatkal, which brings on itself
The pains Beadala already suffered;
Corpses will strew the streets, and shells burst
As fire and thundering cannon do their worst.(66:210)
Cantava a bela Deusa que viriam
Do Tejo, pelo mar que o Gama abrira,
Armadas que as ribeiras venceriam
Por onde o Oceano Índico suspira;
E que os Gentios Reis que não dariam
A cerviz sua ao jugo, o ferro e ira
Provariam do braço duro e forte,
Até render-se a ele ou logo à morte.
Já não defenderá sòmente os passos,
Mas queimar-lhe-á lugares, templos, casas;
Aceso de ira, o Cão, não vendo lassos
Aqueles que as cidades fazem rasas,
Fará que os seus, de vida pouco escassos,
Cometam o Pacheco, que tem asas,
A Quíloa fértil, áspero castigo,
Fazendo nela Rei leal e humano,
Deitado fora o pérfido tirano.
«Também farão Mombaça, que se arreia
De casas sumptuosas e edifícios,
Co ferro e fogo seu queimada e feia,
Em pago dos passados malefícios.
«Mas a de Mir Hocém, que, abalroando,
A fúria esperará dos vingadores,
Verá braços e pernas ir nadando
Sem corpos, pelo mar, de seus senhores.
Raios de fogo irão representando,
No cego ardor, os bravos domadores.
«Mas oh, que luz tamanha que abrir sinto
(Dizia a Ninfa, e a voz alevantava)
Lá no mar de Melinde, em sangue tinto
Das cidades de Lamo, de Oja e Brava,
«Esta luz é do fogo e das luzentes
Armas com que Albuquerque irá amansando
De Ormuz os Párseos, por seu mal valentes,
Que refusam o jugo honroso e brando.
«Ali do sal os montes não defendem
De corrupção os corpos no combate,
Que mortos pela praia e mar se estendem
De Gerum, de Mazcate e Calaiate;
Até que à força só de braço aprendem
A abaxar a cerviz, onde se lhe ate
Obrigação de dar o reino inico
Das perlas de Barém tributo rico.
Opulenta Malaca nomeada.
As setas venenosas que fizeste,
Os crises com que já te vejo armada,
Malaios namorados, Jaus valentes,
Todos farás ao Luso obedientes.»
«Tendo assi limpa a Índia dos imigos,
Virá despois com ceptro a governá-la
Sem que ache resistência nem perigos,
Que todos tremem dele e nenhum fala.
Só quis provar os ásperos castigos
Baticalá, que vira já Beadala.
De sangue e corpos mortos ficou cheia
E de fogo e trovões desfeita e feia.
A reminder that in it all, it is the women who are always promised as plunder.
This was not the crime of incest
Nor the violent abuse of a virgin,
Still less of hidden adultery
For this was a slave, anyone’s woman. (47:206)
All these heroes, and others worthy
In different ways of fame and esteem,
Performing great feats in war
Will taste this island’s pleasures,
Their sharp keels cutting the waves
Under triumphant banners, to find
These lovely nymphs (73:211)
Não será a culpa abominoso incesto
Nem violento estupro em virgem pura,
Nem menos adultério desonesto,
Mas cũa escrava vil, lasciva e escura,
«Estes e outros Barões, por várias partes,
Dinos todos de fama e maravilha,
Fazendo-se na terra bravos Martes,
Virão lograr os gostos desta Ilha,
Varrendo triunfantes estandartes
Pelas ondas que corta a aguda quilha;
E acharão estas Ninfas …
And then she bids Portugal look West, not just East. Don’t, you say. Don’t. But of course they did. This is the monument in Belem that marks where all of these conquerors set out with their swords. Hardly surprising it was built under the dictator Salazar, and rises above a great cartographic rose given them by the apartheid state of South Africa.
El Palacio de la Aljafería is an incredible building, containing within it the material remains of many periods of Spain’s troubled history as well as the ways that each of these histories has been reimagined and retold. It is built over an Islamic fortified enclosure, and the semi-circular turrets date and base of one of the towers date from the 9th Century. They are massive — and the contrast is wonderful with the delicate columns and arches of the inner courtyard, the carvings, the sound of running water, the oratory with its traceried windows. This dates from the period of the Taifas, or the independent kingdoms of Spain before the consolidation of the Almorávides. This period saw the building of the Alhambra as well, but this building predates it, and our guidebook describes it as a model for both that glorious place and the Reales Alcazares in Seville, which I have not seen.
This was the extent of the Taifa of Zaragoza as it was expanded under Abú Yaáfar Áhmad ibn Sulaymán al-Muqtádir, who had this exquisite courtyard built.
This also remains.
Other remnants sit engulfed in the architecture of Christian kings.
Zaragoza was conquered by Alfonso I (El Batallador) in 1118, and this was converted into the Palace of the Aragonese monarchs. This period remains visible through some of the interior rebuilding, above all these carved ceilings with their heraldic paintings.
In 1492, a new palace was plonked down on top of both the old by Ferdinand and Isabella — 1492 was such a terrible year. They did not have anyone as capable of the work as the Mudéjar architect, Faraig de Gali, and he blended the styles together as best he could. These, then, are on the top stories, with lovely tiles and interesting (if gaudy) carved and coffered ceilings.
From here it enters its decline, Phillip the Second ordering it repurposed to become a fort in 1593. He built more defensive walls with pentagonal bastions at the corners and the moat and the drawbridges.
You have to wonder why this fort was necessary in the middle of the Spain, the little pmaphlet states:
…the real reason for building this fort was none other than to show royal authority in teh face of teh Aragonese people’s demands for their rights as well as teh monarch’s wishing to curb possible revolts by the people of Zaragoza.
Nation building wasn’t entirely smooth it seems. The building later became a barracks. Many of the islamic carvings were removed and put into museums, and it was a very slow process (1931 declared historic, excavation and reconstruction began 1947) to convert this building into the palimpsest it represents today where original and reconstruction sit together, and they do it rather beautifully.
I remember reading of the Marranos y Moriscos, Jews and Arabs who to some extent or another or not really at all converted to Christianity and remained after Aragon and Castille conquered the Peninsula, who stayed through the Inquisition. But before this point in 1492 (and for how long after?) there were the Mudéjars. This is from the Encyclodpedia Britannica:
Mudejar, Spanish Mudéjar, (from Arabic mudajjan, “permitted to remain”), any of the Muslims who remained in Spain after the Reconquista, or Christian reconquest, of the Iberian Peninsula (11th–15th century). In return for the payment of a poll tax, the Mudejars—most of whom converted to Islam after the Arab invasion of Spain in the 8th century—were a protected minority, allowed to retain their own religion, language, and customs. With leaders assigned by the local Christian princes, they formed separate communities and quarters in larger towns, where they were subject to their own Muslim laws.
The Mudejars were highly skilled craftsmen who created an extremely successful mixture of Arabic and Spanish artistic elements. The Mudejar style is marked by the frequent use of the horseshoe arch and the vault, and it distinguishes the church and palace architecture of Toledo, Córdoba, Sevilla (Seville), and Valencia. The Mudejar hand is also evident in the ornamentation of wood and ivory, metalwork, ceramics, and textiles; and their lustre pottery is second only to that of the Chinese.
Such architecture is everywhere here in Aragon, what I think of as the heart of Spain. It is everywhere here, particularly churches, and very beautiful.
This was quite a brilliant look at how and why the idea of race has developed in the United States. I haven’t read Roediger before so I can’t really compare it to his previous work, but given it’s written for a more popular audience, which I think is important, I did not mind the lack of footnotes. While it was reasonably short, I confess it took me a long time to get through and I’m not sure if that was because of the language or the weight of the ideas, but I didn’t regret a second.
It begins with a definition of race. For Roediger race is not a natural category, it is something new. It has been laboriously constructed to divide and sort people and thereby define how they relate to property, management, punishment and citizenship. The first of the two clearest examples of how this works is of course slavery, which took many different people of many different languages and cultures and defined them as black, as uncivilised and less than Europeans if not less than human, and only worthy of being slaves. The second is in the conquest and genocide of the Native Americans. Initially seen in the period of British rule as tribes with whom to ally with or fight against in the wars against other European powers, as a new nation began to create itself and push its boundaries they quickly became defined as red, as savages, as shiftless and lazy, and therefore worthy of being dispossessed of their lands. When they fought back? Jefferson himself argued shortly before his death that they be exterminated.
Through these stories we begin to come to grips with the two other key ideas about race contained in the book. The first is that of ‘whiteness as property’. Skin colour comes to define almost everything about an individual: where they live and work, what they can aspire to, the texture of their everyday life. When all else fails you can still cling to whiteness to put yourself above other people. You are a citizen. You cannot be enslaved. You are better than others. Your skin colour has a value, whiteness comes to be worth something in itself, something that distinguishes you and puts you above others. There was a time before this was true, when indentured servants and slaves escaped together, when the mixing of races was voluntary rather than from the rape of slaves. Laws made of whiteness something to be defended: banning interracial marriage, penalizing indentured servants who run in the company of a non-white, ruling that children share the freedom or the servitude of their mother, ruling people of color less than human and non-citizens. It was a combination of enticement and terror, whites either acted to their own benefit by buying into it or were punished severely for its transgression.
On the opposite side you found a law in Barbados from 1668: “An Act declaring the Negro-Slaves of this Island to be Real Estates.”
The second point is based on Stuart Hall (who I love). As Roediger says of him, he “acutely points out that racism emerges and is recreated from the imperatives of new sets of realities, not just from the bad habits of the past” [xiii]. The first key is that there are imperatives that drive this social construction of race, such as the desire for free labor to develop open land, the greed for land and expansion both in terms of speculation and profit, and to vent the building anger of the working white classes who are not finding in America their promised prosperity and demanding free land while threatening revolution. The second: that these imperatives do not just happen in some past time and continue on through inertia or habit (though the weight of the past cannot be treated lightly). The key is that racism still exists because new imperatives exist to ensure that it does. Until we understand them, we cannot end racism.
In a nutshell: “White supremacy persisted not only by working against the forces of freedom, of openness, and of economic rationality in US history, but also by working through them. Such complexities complicate the verb ‘survive’ in this book’s title, in that many of the forces pushing against the logic of racism at the same time validated, created, and recreated white supremacy.” [xv]
He goes on to explore and draw out these ideas through American history, looking at 4 key points where racism could have ceased, but didn’t. In very simplified terms:
How did it survive a revolution? Because honestly, it’s a bit ingenuous to revolt in the name of ideals of liberty and self-determination against British oppression while you yourself hold slaves. This is the classic ‘American dilemma’, which Roediger argues to be false. The revolution was funded by slavery, and Du Bois noted that the Constitution was in fact a huge blow to the slave liberation movement, Roediger sums it up succinctly: “[the constitution] made even indentured whites (their race unnamed) into “free persons”, it read Indians (who were named) out of citizenship, and it counted enslaved “other persons” (named neither racially nor in their servile position, by what one delegate called an “ashamed” constitutional convention) not as holders of political power, but as sources of such power for their own enslavers.”  Thus America becomes a white man’s country, welding together large and fractious class divisions through the imperative of expanding into Indian territory and maintaining race status.
How did it survive capitalism? Because even the Marxists argued that race would dissolve in the crucible of the working class. But in fact capital thrives on having different groups of workers in a hierarchy and in competition with each other, and it became policy to play these groups off one another. And slavery was not some pre-capitalist formation, it grew up with capitalism.
How did it survive jubilee and the abolition of slavery? That was the moment there was the most hope…but “Jubilee did not collapse under the weight of internal contradictions, but under extended assault.” The rise of the KKK, in one small town in Louisiana 60 republican party members were murdered during reconstruction. And then the fateful election where the Republicans gave up reconstruction all together and abandoned blacks to their fate for an uncontested election. Hayes almost certainly lost the popular vote, but he became president anyway.
How did it survive the immigration of those white Europeans most discriminated against? Through a process of coercion and aspiration and immense exploitation they slowly became accepted as white. In a sense they thus agreed to accept the rules of privilege rather than struggle against them.
And so it is still with us, Obama notwithstanding. The main point is “how unlikely it is that a force so longstanding, formative, and persistently recreated as white supremacy has been in United States history will be abolished by accident, as a result of the momentum of forces like capitalism or immigration that themselves have no anti-racist agenda.” [xv] We have to actively fight it, and to do so we have to understand it. This book takes us a great deal of the way I think. It is very US specific, while the drama of race has played out globally (as has the US role) and yet none of that is connected here which I found an absence. But this is an important book.
Just communities. Just cities. Just connections between country and city. Also, the weird and wonderful.