Thursday, 8 July 2021

hic sunt dracones

Via the always interesting Languagehat not only do we learn that there is a cooperative effect to document and propagate a lexical database of marine life, said lexicon also covers chimera and mythical beings, revealing that merfolk also include the merbishop (unclear whether that is due to appearance or ecclesiastical hierarchy), an anthropomorphic fish described by Cornelius Aurelius in 1517 and revisited by renowned Swiss naturalist and regarded as the father of zoology Conrad Gessner in 1604—exemplars along with mermonks (moine de mer, Seemรถnch, pesce monaco) captured in the Baltic Sea. Much more to explore at the links above—including an impressively comprehensive, non-sea-life glossary of boat-building terminology.

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

6x6

scream real loud: The 1954 “Pinky Lee Show” that prefigures in a way Pee-Wee’s Playhouse 

7/10: promoting health for the high seas on World Oceans Day—previously  

avian aftershave: crows treat themselves to ant baths  

squirrels under the hood: an AI researchers illustrates how algorithms are dangerously regressive reflections of the worst of us (previously) and are far from artificial or intelligent  

###: a short from Optical Arts repeats a range of actions with different objects in the key of A  

that’s my name—don’t wear it out: do yourself a favour and check out the blog of Pee-Wee Herman

Saturday, 24 April 2021

situationist international

Though better-known by the later stages of the collective’s existence for developing the principles of dรฉrive and psycho-geography, the burgeoning group of avant-garde artists and social revolutionaries formed in the late 1950s garnered public attention and some herostratic fame on this day in 1964 by decapitating the landmark bronze located on a waterside promenade in Copenhagen, the Little Mermaid, the first act in a long line of vandalism towards this poort statue motivated by various reasons. Radically left-leaning and convinced that the capitalism that Karl Marx had sought to redress, the Situationists—especially during this formative political period, was becoming more pervasive and all-encompassing and that the estranging forces of commodity fetishism were fast encroaching on every aspect of life and culture, helping limn and inform the summer of unrest and insurrection of Paris in May of 1968.

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

your daily demon: zagan

This sixty-first infernal king and president is also known by the name Dagon, possibly inspired by the ancient Mesopotamian deity interpreted as a fish-god or merman, but presents as a bull with griffin wings. When invoked, Zagan’s virtue is in making men witty, the alchemy of any base metal into valuable specie and can turn wine into water, blood into wine, wine into blood and also water into wine. Governing from this cusp day through the twenty-fourth of January, Zagan’s position is in the first degrees of Aquarius. Ruling thirty-three legions, Zagan is opposed by the angel Umahel.

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

high-times and misdemeanours

Though we want no more Joe Camels—or sugary coffee and preciously flavoured vapes for that matter—and I can understand the intent behind the regulations, we learn via Super Punch, that the state of Maine finds that the mermaid mascot (see also) of a Portland marijuana dispensary runs afoul of the law. Newly opened enterprises aimed for adults are not allowed to use labelling or programming that might appear to target or appeal to people underage with depictions of humans, animals and fruit are specifically restricted.

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Discovered by brewer by trade and amateur astronomer by passion William Lassell just weeks after the confirmation of the new planet Neptune at the advice of his friend polymath John Herschel to search for moons, the largest and what was considered until 1949 to be the lone satellite came to be named after Triton. 

The son of sea god Poseidon and Amphitrite—was half man and half fish his name was broadly used as term for merfolk generally in classical scholarship.  Triton’s relatively substantial size, as big as the Earth’s moon, and uniquely retrograde orbit suggest Triton was a dwarf planet, like Pluto, captured by the gas giant. Composed primarily of water ice and frozen nitrogen with a rocky core, it is one of the few known satellites to be geologically active and has cryovolcanic activity and ice geysers that give the moon uniform but ridged terrain described as akin to the surface of a cantaloupe.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

deaccession

Delightfully temporarily shuttered museums are holding a virtual curatorial showdown to reveal the world’s creepiest exhibit or object in their collection. Entrants, all hideous and artefacts to make one’s skin crawl began with a ancient Roman woman’s burial hair bun and include taxidermied mermaids, talismans and torture devices—like this one pictured from the Tower of London, touted as an executioner’s mask but subsequent research suggests it’s purpose is even darker: an iron muzzle called a Scold’s Bridle, meant for public humiliation. See more ghastly, cursed objects at The Guardian article at the link up top.

Monday, 16 March 2020

amabie

Via both our friends Spoon & Tamago and Everlasting Blรถrt we are introduced to a timely and portentous yลkai (see previously) that presents as a sort of merfolk with three trunk like legs emerging from the sea to forecast either abundant crops or epidemic.
Pictured above is a late Edo era wood block print depicting an encounter in 1846 off the coast of Kumamoto investigated by local authority, whom were told by the creature that identified itself by name that good harvests would continue unabated for the next six years and should disease spread, display an artistic likeness of it to those afflicted to ward off sickness.  I can’t sketch so well and there are many better examples at the links up top from popular illustrators, but I figured I could at least share my contribution, thinking maybe we could all draw and share our own amabie (ใ‚ขใƒžใƒ“ใ‚จ) as an art therapy project whilst we self-isolate.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

ys

In addition to its own version of the Arthurian saga, the western part of Bretagne on the peninsula of Crozon, once known as Cournouallie with the same etymology as Cornwall across the Channel, has its own legendary cast of characters including Gradlon the Great (Gradlon Meur). A soldier of fortune courted by a sorcerous consort of a dying king called Malgven—who talked Gradlon into giving the old king a coup de grรขce and ruling with her.
This cautionary tale continues with Malgven dying during childbirth with the couple’s daughter Dahut, a most unnatural and ungrateful child. Having established himself as an otherwise sage and just ruler—despite his earlier act of regicide, Gradlon commissioned the building of a fantastic city built on land reclaimed from the sea (Kรชr Ys, low city), lavishly ornamented and with no expense spared, the waters held back by a system of dykes for which only Gradlon had the key to open the floodgates.
Over the years, Dahut had grown frivolous and vain and was wiled by a suitor to grant him access to Ys. Rather punch-drunk with her success of secreting away the key from her father and thinking she was throwing open the city gate, a torrent of water rushed in. The king was roused by a very historical bishop called Gwenole, who keeping vespers in the night and saw the flood waters rise and was beatified as founding bishop of the abbey of Landรฉvennec (see also and when I first saw the ruin it reminded me of this amphitheatre on the Cornish coast that we visited and upon leaving the town, saw it was in fact twinned—jumelage—with The Lizard (An Lysardh), that peninsula in southern Cornwall.

The king took to his steed and rescued Dahut while the rest of the Ys’ people drowned. Dahut (I’d quite like to hear her version of the story) fell from the horse during the escape and was transformed into a mermaid, still haunting the Bay of Douarnenez to this day and luring sailors to violent ends against the cliffs with her siren song.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

gesamtkunstwerk

Having observed the centenary of the successor Bauhaus movement earlier in the year, it was a real treat to visit the Wiesbaden museum (previously) for a grand and circumspect tour of the age in art and design that came right before with an inspiring exhibition of Jugenstil and Art Deco that for the first time brought together the institution‘s complete endowment of period antiques from the collection of local patron Friedrich Wolfgang Neiss, supplemented with a few objects on loan from Paris and Vienna.








It was not only dazzling with fine and elegant craftsmanship on display—lamps and chandeliers from Louis Comfort Tiffany, ร‰mile Gallรฉ, and the Müller Fréres, porcelain, paintings and furnishings (the individual suites were sort of set up like IKEA showrooms) but also was curated in such a way to address the artists’ philosophy and outlook.  Thematically it was also interesting to note the subject matter being different and unexpected with lots of mushrooms, bats and even jellyfish and mermen appearing throughout the collection aside from mythological and religious allegories.  These images are just a small sampling of the items that caught my eye.




Tuesday, 29 January 2019

briar rose

On this day in 1959, Walt Disney’s adaptation of the fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty” (previously) went into theatrical release.
Despite the grandeur of the storytelling, wonderful villainy and Academy Award-nominated score, critical reception was mixed and tepid at best, accused of being too much like Snow White. This reaction prompted the studio to abandon the folklore genre altogether, not to again revisit princesses and magic (the reserve of anthropomorphic rodents and canines, arguably with the exception of the other commercial failure of 1985’s The Black Cauldron, loosely based on a Welsh myth that nearly bankrupted the company) for three decades until the 1989 release of The Little Mermaid.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

รธstenfor sol og vestenfor mรฅne

Public Domain Review introduces us to the Norwegian folk tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon via the sumptuously illustrated version translated and published for English markets in 1914 by artist Danish Kay Rasmus Nielsen (*1886 – †1957).
Classified under the Aarne-Thompson system as “the search for the lost husband,” the story references universal motifs and to a degree informs “Beauty and the Beast.” A poor peasant is approached by the White Bear with a proposition: in exchange for his fair, young daughter, the bear will make the peasant wealthy. The father is persuaded and the daughter is spirited away to an enchanted castle. At night, the bear transforms back into a human to be with the young woman but under cover of darkness, she never catches his unursine visage. The woman grows homesick and the bear will allow her to visit her family, provided that she promises never to speak with her mother alone. Her mother is persistent about addressing her situation one-on-one and eventually corners her and presses her for details.
Without getting much more out of her daughter, the mother proclaims that the White Bear must really be a gruesome troll and gives her daughter three candles to investigate. Curiosity getting the better of her, she lights the candle one even after she returns to the enchanted castle to find the White Bear’s true form is that of a handsome prince. Dripping hot tallow on the sleeping prince accidentally, he bolts upright, bleary-eyed and bemoans the fate that he’s now consigned to: his wicked stepmother bargaining that the prince could not sustain the love, trust of another for a whole year and keep his true appearance from them. Now instead of being free from the curse, the prince must now journey to the stepmother’s castle, east of the Sun and west of the Moon where he is to be wed to his step-sister a troll princess. Read the rest of the story (which ends happily ever after) and learn more about the illustrator—who contributed to Fantasia (1940) and posthumously to The Little Mermaid (1989)—at Public Domain Review at the link up top.

Monday, 15 January 2018

dugong show

Despite rejection by the scientific and curatorial community as hoaxes, the manufactured chimera known as Fiji mermaids are stubborn objects of fascination and still prized acquisitions in serious collections, as Hyperallergic contributor Allison Meier experienced.
Marketed to the public like sea-monkeys, perhaps some of that enduring celebrity and academic interest can be sourced to that dissonance between expectation and reality. Specimens are even subjected to a rigorous battery of testing, including DNA and x-rays. What do you think? Plenty of reliquaries have sideshow status as well but we wonder if such spectacles and mascots aren’t contributing to the idea of museums as backdrops over places of scholarship and learning. Perhaps the sense of balance is most important.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

merkmal, mermail

The dried and liberally taxidermied carcass of a manta ray or a small shark, though pareidolia played a bigger role for these grotesque souvenirs than it did with the Fiji mermaid, carries the interesting name of Jenny Haniver.
Supposedly British marines first became acquainted with these nasty chimera when calling in Antwerp in the sixteenth century, where sailors had been crafting the keep-sakes for tourists for generations. The name stuck as a cockney-version of the French term jeune d’Anvers (the youth of Antwerp). People knew, for the most part, that this business was humbug but enjoyed letting their imaginations run wild, liking the idea of having a vanquished monster for their mantle. The antique mermaids (Meerjungfrauen) of Fiji probably themselves were the product of Japanese folklore and the legendary creature, the ningyo—which does share some correspondence with Western traditions, albeit that the ningyo was considered a delicacy that would impart great longevity to those who ate it.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

the hunting of the snark

First sighted and described through second- or third-hand accounts in the third century BC, the unicorn—or monoceros was for centuries embellished with the rich lore of mythology, though this legendary creature had no truck with myths and heroes as it was believed to be very much part of the animal kingdom, though cryptic and elusive. The creature even figured, in its classic form, in the ancient iconography of India, whence the original came. Being unable to observe the shy creature in its natural habitat and unable to produce a specimen, big-fish stories circulated of the fierce and violent steed, who might only be tamed in the presence of a virgin—apparently also a a rare beast that couldn’t just be left in some forest as bait, what with dragons to be appeased.

Received Arabic advanced pharmacology further articulated the healing, anti-venom potency of its horn—the ivory and medicine derived from it is called alicorn, but most medieval had to settle for the horn in powdered form—for which they’d pay handsomely. The possibility of being drugged while wined and dined by potential rivals was a very real fear for the nobility—which such murderous intent not relegated to the underclasses until modern times. And up until the time artist Albrech Dรผrer was able to issue thousands of copies of his prints, people in Europe seemed willing to accept the traditional accounts of encounters with what to modern ears becomes instantly a rhinoceros and not some lithesome horse with a horn. Whether the public grew sceptical, especially with the increasing conflation with Christianity as an excuse for the inability to deliver evidence of an actual unicorn, or whether it had already been poached to extinction, I cannot say, but some enterprising Dane saw an opportunity and went whaling off the coasts of distant Greenland, hunting an even more unlikely creature, the narwal, and passing of its spiral tusk as the genuine article. Those with means paid even greater amounts for prized exemplars of horn. Eventually this ruse was revealed by a Danish physician after having been allowed to continue for decades, however, the public fascination was not diminished but rather encouraged by this confirmation. There was a strong belief among natural scientists that all terrestrial and aquatic animals had counterparts, like the behemoth and the leviathan or landlubbing people and merfolk. Acknowledging that there was such an incredible fish to be found only made people more convinced that the unicorn was still out there to be found.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

rex mundi or spirits in the material world

The massacre of the Cathars in Europe—particularly in their bastions of southern France is not just a historical curiosity, a footnote or something merely comparable with the ongoing plight and persecution of the Yazidi under contemporary righteous bullies and deserves much more of a mention than a few lines sandwiched between the more well-known campaigns of the Children’s Crusades and the Reconquista. What little that is known for certain about the beliefs and traditions of people grouped under the name Cathar, which means pure one but may have been applied in the pejorative sense to a whole spectrum of individuals with unorthodox tenets, is scant and suspect since it was chronicled by those who sought to exterminate heresy in all its forms. A few common accusations of the inquisitors sketches at least a faint outline of the framework of their belief—the dichotomy between the material and spiritual world, which are the handiwork of distinct gods, the former faulty, evil and covetous and the later perfection, goodness and love, and born to the dual nature of mind and body, they believed that they were duty-bound (as reflected by their manner of worship) to try to reconcile this dual-nature through a series of reincarnation until finally pure, having elevated and shed that physical form.

With procreation seen as a way of perpetuating the cycles of death and re-birth, marriage was generally eschewed and couples practiced birth-control. As anyone might be reborn as anything, there was not the usual denigration of women and most of the sects practiced vegetarianism. Naturally, such beliefs were dangerous and subversive, as the community scoffed the authority of the Church, and while they believed that Jesus was a good man with admirable qualities and a prophet, the Cathars found it ridiculous to believe that a saviour would be made incarnate. Secular authority was questionable too, appealing as it did to the divine right of kings.
For decades, missionaries were sent into the Balkans, where the faith had probably originated, and into parts of southern France and Italy to try to reform the Cathars—but seeing no conversions for all their efforts and with the needed catalyst came in the form of murdered papal delegate, accompanied by Saint Dominic, and perhaps more pointedly, the tacit permission to sack Byzantium, a twenty-year long purge, called the Albigensian Crusade (named for the arch-diocese of Albi, which was in the centre of Cathar country), was launched to rid Languedoc of Cathar influences. Of course, frustrated clerics and nobles welcomed themselves to the spoils of the auto-de-fay. The story of this persecution, however, is an even greater crime than mankind generally unleashes on his own kind in that, like the destruction of Constantinople in terms of learning and culture lost to the world, the region that was home to most of the Cathars prior to the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Aude praire with the cities of Carcassonne, Narbonne, Perpignan, Nรฎmes, Toulouse and Avignon, was probably the chief contender for the most refined and advanced territory in all of medieval Europe—everything in between Ireland (with its monasteries, which were also irritants for the Church but remote enough to be left alone) and said Constantinople—which now toppled, exposed Europe to incursions from the Mongols and Ottomans.
Hints of this cultivation remain in the architectural tradition but little else, as the genocide was nearly total. Anecdotally at least, this indiscriminate slaughter was the source of the saying, paraphrased, “Kill ‘em all and let God sort them out.” Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius. Pockets endured in the most remote rural areas and Cathar communities were also incorporated into other sects of outliers, the new Protestants and the Moravian (Herrenhuter) of the German woodlands. On a lighter note, happily an international cafรฉ chain affords us the opportunity to reflect and share our experiences with gnosticism and the Albigensian Crusade by branding the avatar of the dread and almighty Abraxas on all their merchandise.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

cowboys and indians: acre and ascalon or mesuline and maid marion

With the True Cross lost to the Muslims and Saladin having recaptured much of the Holy Lands, the mission that became known as the Third Crusade, embellished with a stamp of romance and authority that has grown in the imagination over the years—of course, dependent on the current geopolitical fabulists—might be the adventure that many envision when thinking of Europe’s forays into the Middle East.

Latin Christian communities had been entrenched in a handful of major cities for some three generations at this point, in the late twelve century, several monumental crusader castles had been constructed as anchors, there was a professional fighting-force in the orders of the Templars and Hospitallers, the former regional power of Byzantium was on the wane, and though the same problems with infighting amongst the European leadership, the monarchs—not the princes, mercenaries or other understudies, the Crusaders marched to battle under such luminaries as King Richard Lionheart of England, King Philip II of France and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Though there was an appeal from the papacy to rally the population, though somewhat fatigued already with the idea and none too impressed with the previous performance, dashing Richard Lionheart’s eagerness to volunteer spurred others to follow suite.
There was not only the desire not to look like cowards or non-believers, there was moreover the matter that the European heads of state were rather natural enemies back at home, and it would be disastrous to dislodge any part of this precariously balanced system of oaths and allegiances without upsetting the whole order and making all lands vulnerable to attack. England and France decided to sail to the Holy Land, an expensive but seemingly prudent and expedient decision, with a large armada across the Mediterranean. Eager to arrive first in the Holy Land, the German armies took the overland route through Anatolia. Although the prospect of a huge German army sweeping through the lands of the Seljuk Turks and onto Syria and the Levant was a terrifying thought and the psychological effects far outlasted the campaign itself (much like the later-day Operation Barbarossa), the aging Emperor chose to try to ford the River Saleph (Gรถksu) on the Anatolian Peninsula instead of crossing at a perfectly good but overcrowded bridge and drowned, never reaching the Holy Land and never finding the legendary Prester John. After this untimely accident, the armies of the Holy Roman Empire splintered and many divisions returned home. England and France got off to a much later start and the passage via Sicily dragged on for some three years. Richard Lionheart pushed on ahead of the French forces and took Cyprus en route to the port city of Acre.
The city was firmly under Muslim control, but the dethroned and feckless King of Jerusalem, Guy of Lusignan, having been released from prison in Damascus, along with his morganatic wife and children, who were the legitimate heirs to the captured kingdom, and King Guy was only elevated by marriage, had a bold plan to lay siege to the city as a way of solidifying his claim. That claim became even more specious in short order when his wife, Isabella of Jerusalem and their children, died while escaping back into Syria from the lands where Saladin had exiled them to, in exchange for his release. Guy’s apparent lack of leadership ability had of course made him unpopular with his former subjects and their was another pretender, cousin Conrad of Montferrat, whom was favoured by the French contingent. Consequently, the French forces did not really care to put themselves out to help Guy of Lusignan with his prestige project. Owing to the fact that the deposed king was not favoured by the French and that they shared a common-ancestor, a certain water-sprite named Melusine (whom according to popular legend was herself the product of a union between a mortal man and the Lady of the Lake, whose Exalibur Richard had reportedly brought into battle but traded to Sicilian merchants in exchange for more ships an loyalty; a later liaison with King Raymond of Poitou had produced ten children who would come to be the lines of the noble families of Europe, but as mortals can never witness the true form of sprites, taken to becoming a mermaid on Saturdays and Raymond’s curiosity finally got the better of him and spied on her alone-time rituals, Melusine transformed into a winged dragon and left Raymond to raise his royal brood by himself), Richard was willing to champion Guy’s cause.
Taking the port of Acre and building a huge encampment outside the city walls, the Crusading army was eventually, against the odds, to capture the stronghold, due to regular supplies and reinforcements that could be safely brought by sea. Victory in the siege was a huge morale-booster for the Crusaders—even the French, who as a concession to Guy’s plan, agreed that he could live out his days as regent of Jerusalem, never mind that it was yet to be conquered, with the kingdom reverting to their candidate, Conrad of Montferrat upon his death, but was not one of particular strategic importance. In fact, as Richard Lionheart realised, now the troops were forced more or less to keep to the coast and captialise on their naval power, rather than venturing inland—where Jerusalem lie.
Disheartened and overshadowed by Richard’s showmanship, Philip II decided to return to France to tend to his own kingdom, leaving the majority of his armies at Richard’s disposal. This proved to be somewhat of a liability, however, as it was difficult to persuade the armies that forging on to Jerusalem directly would be suicidal. The army captured Jaffa, remaining there for months while abortive negotiations took place between the Crusaders and a representative of Saladin, his brother Al-Adil, as Saladin refused to meet with Richard directly for his brutal slaughter of Muslim prisoners after the fall of Acre, and deciding just where to go next. During this long period of hesitation, Saladin ordered the demolition of the port city of Ascalon, wagering it was Richard’s next goal, reasoning that without control of the coast, no attempt on Jerusalem would be made. Winning support back from the French by conceding the throne to the pretender Conrad of Montferrat—who was incidentally murdered by Assassins before the investment ceremony could take place in the single instance of the sect taking any part in Crusader politics, the Crusader army left Jaffa and re-fortified a line of abandoned outposts between Jaffa and Ascalon and began rebuilding that fortress as well.  The rival contender for the crown, Guy of Lusignan, had already been sent off to the island of Cyprus to rule as a consolation prize.  Battle ensued for Jerusalem, and while the Crusaders retreated at the walls of the Holy City, knowing that even if they could breach them, they could not hope to hold Jerusalem without a leader, the armies of Saladin were routed as they attempted to capture the intervening chain of Crusader bases behind the lines and both sides reached a stalemate.
Negotiations were formalised that preserved Muslim control of Jerusalem, while allowing Christian pilgrims and merchants access to the city. Although the goal was not realised, the Crusader forces held control of the seas in the region. Richard Lionheart returned to Europe to try to sort out the mess his little brother John Lackland (ever spurned for being given no significant dukedom by his father Henry II—Ireland apparently did not count) was making in England with his allegiances with the French king. Upon arrival, Richard was imprisoned under suspicion of contracting the killing of his cousin, Conrad of Montferrat (in Austria by a duke that Richard had offended for not recognising his part in the taking of Acre), beginning the intrigues that are the background of Robin Hood and setting the stage for the Fourth Crusade and a Byzantium Renaissance.