Monday, July 22, 2013

The Shipwrecks of Time -- and a new excerpt

Frank Bacon
"Antiquities," wrote Francis Bacon in one of his more lucid moments, "are remnants of history which have casually escaped the shipwrecks of time."

To  put  matters more statistically, as TOF knew you would expect, the objects and documents of the past are not a random sample, but a haphazard congeries and there is room in the gaps for all sorts of startling things to happen.

A commentator elsewhere wonders why there is no document in the "Egyptian records" that mentions the escape of the Hebrew slaves in the Exodus.  This tellingly reveals the Late Modern mindset, which cunningly expects the bureaucratic paperwork regime of the Modern scientific State to be replicated in earlier ages.  It so happens that for the reign suspected of including the Exodus, there are only three inscriptions that have survived to the present day.  Whatever else may have been written down has perished in the shipwrecks of time.

1949 or 1969?
The same goes for those who hold the gospels to stricter standards of evidence than they hold everything else from Ancient and Classical times.  TOF has noted before that there are no contemporary records of Hannibal, and no Carthaginian records of someone who was supposedly their greatest general!  Now, of course, there are no Carthaginian records of anything at all, since on Cato's urging the entire city was obliterated.*  And Cato's History, the known only contemporary account, has likewise perished.  Polybius comes two generations later and Livy, two centuries later. 
(*) obliterated.  The Roman habit of razing especially obstreperous cities is why one needn't wait for Titus' legions in order to weep over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41 et seq.).  The late dating of Luke is predicated on the "impossibility" of Jesus weeping over the destruction of Jerusalem if Jerusalem had not already been destroyed by the time Luke wrote.  By this reasoning, Heinlein could not have written "The Man Who Sold the Moon" before 1969.
And so it goes.  There was only one near-contemporaneous account of Hypatia of Alexandria: that of Socrates Scholasticus, whose Ecclesiastical History was one of many attempts to write a continuation of Eusebius.  And Socrates was writing in Constantinople based on what people told him.  Hearsay, our skeptics would have it, especially when they learn the account does not support their mythology and they must add to it certain ideological assumptions.  A second contemporary account, by the Arian Philostorgius, is lost except for an epitome written centuries later by Photius.  Other accounts are two generations later (Damascius, as copied into the 10th cent. Suda Lexicon) or two centuries later (John of Nikiu). 

All that the historian has is a bunch of isolated dots.  The historian's job is to connect the dots.  This often requires assessing sources, weighing their prejudices, comparing one against another.  This is complicated by the fact that outside the Grecosphere, history was usually a branch of court propaganda.  It's purpose was to make the Leader look cool and powerful, so stories of his defeat were unlikely to be written except by the victor.  For example, both the Hittites and the Egyptians claimed victory at Qadesh, but by comparing the two accounts modern historians can reconstruct what probably did happen in the battle. 

John Lukacs once wrote that history was only invented in the late 19th century.  Previously, it was a specialized branch of literature.  F.P.Barbieri, himself an historian, has written on this subject here and here

The Shipwrecks of Time

But TOF, we hear you say, what has this to do with that eagerly awaited novel of scientific fiction entitled as above?

2/128th Inf., 32nd (Red Arrow) Division keeps white mob at bay
Milwaukee Sentinel, Aug. 29, 1966
Easily said, grasshopper.  TOF has just finished a chapter set in the demonstrations at Judge Cannon's house in August 1966.  This was several years before TOF's advent in Milwaukee and so he had to rely on newspaper accounts.  By some grace of the goddess Clio, archives of both the Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel were available on-line for the era in question.  The two accounts differed slightly, mostly on such details as times or the number of protestors and the like.  But also a detail might be found in one paper that was not mentioned in the other.  Putting them together, TOF was able to reconstruct a reasonably coherent account of the picketing on the evening of Sunday 28 August 1966.

It wasn't pretty.  History can up and smack you in the face.  A mob of several thousand whites shouting obscenities and screaming curses swarmed around a picketing group led by Fr. Groppi of about 150 blacks and 50 whites.  The National Guard had been called up that morning and served as a buffer between the civil rights demonstrators and those I must call the civil wrongs defenders.  Consequently, the Guard and the police came in for their share of invective, being called "lovers of Negroes," though not in those particular words.  Some of the more printable cries were "Send 'em back to the Congo," "We don't want any cannibal's here," and the ever popular "Kill 'em!  Kill 'em!" or more specifically "Kill the n******!" or "Kill the white n*****-lovers!"  The Guardsmen were also asked "Why aren't you in Vietnam!"

Carole and Frank are there; the former because she had some idea of showing solidarity and Frank to protect her.  Frank says Nelson should be here, since his field is modern history; Carole looks about the shouting, raving mob and says, No, Wilma's field is the barbarian invasions.  

Sometimes a stroll down memory lane can remind us how far we have actually come and place present unpleasantries in a whole sh*tload of context.  Don't ever say there's been no progress.  


The Preview Page now contains a brief episode from January 1966, somewhat less harrowing than the one I just finished writing.  The denizens of the House gather for a special occasion in the television room. 


  1. I know what you mean, but the word order makes it sound like Fr. Groppi's group was the one shouting and screaming.

  2. I'm jumping into this mid-stream--I've seen excerpts scattered through your archived posts--but what is "The Shipwrecks of Time" about?

    1. Historians and antiquarians hunting for the elusive Peruzzi Manuscript have ended up dead over the past few centuries. Part One "Old Books" follows researchers Francis Xavier Delacorte and Wilma Masterson and their director Prof. Jonathon Henkle as their various projects bring them closer to a dangerous truth.

      How's that sound.

    2. The search for a lost book leaving a trail of dead bodies? I'm in.


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