Home > General, History > All the way from Syria, please welcome Bobby Darin!

All the way from Syria, please welcome Bobby Darin!

I am in England at the moment, having attended a family wedding.

During my ongoing and rather listless research of my family tree, I sometimes come across some interesting little vignettes. One of them concerns the story of an artifact that once belonged to ancestors of mine.  The “Luck of Edenhall” is a glass beaker that is thought to have been made in Syria in the 13th century, elegantly decorated in blue, green, red and white enamel with gilding.

“If this cup should break or fall
Farewell the Luck of Edenhall!”

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luck_of_Edenhall. The vessel was donated to the V&A Museum in the 1920s. As I was going to be in London, I thought it might be interesting to go and have a look.

Having tracked down and gazed upon the rather beautiful, heirless heirloom, described as being one of the most important exhibits in the V&A, I went on a wander around the museum. Eventually, I stumbled across a gallery that displayed some of the collections of Horace Walpole from his home at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham. His name had come up in conversation, a few days ago, in relation to a quiz or crossword or some such. I think the reference was to his Gothic novel, Castle of Otranto. (Walpole is thought to have coined the word, ‘serendipity’.) Anyway, I confess that I did not know much about Horace Walpole, so when I got home I googled him. Inevitably, perhaps, that took me to his father Robert Walpole.

Earlier in my visit, I had been staying with my sister and had discovered in  my room a copy of John Gay’s ‘The Beggar’s Opera’. Of course I had heard of Gay and his satirical work and I even knew that he invented the character Macheath, about whom Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill wrote the song,  “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer”. What I did not know was that the highwayman Macheath was based upon Robert Walpole. Had he been alive today, John Gay would surely have been writing for Private Eye.

Anyway, here is Bobby Darrin singing about Britain’s first and longest serving Prime Minister.

  1. August 21, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    Hello Sipu. I hope you are well. Thank you for this fascinating blog and its serendipitous theme. I was particularly interested to read about the glass beaker from Syria and your family’s connection to it. I see that the beaker remains complete but that Eden Hall has now disappeared. The beaker has sent me on my own wanderings; I have been reading about the ‘ihs’ inscription it bears. This inscription comes from the Greek IHΣ ( itself from Ιησους, or the Greek for ‘Jesus’). Later the IHΣ was interpreted wrongly as the Roman letters IHS and given the meaning of ‘Iesus Hominem Salvator’.

  2. August 21, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Hello Cymbeline. How nice to hear from you. I am well thank you, as are you, I hope. (Actually, I am suffering from mild indigestion following a heavy Sunday lunch, but I am sure that is of no interest to you.)

    Thank you for that. I had wondered what it meant, but had not got round to researching it. I thought perhaps, incorrectly as it turns out, it had something to do with the ‘fish’ sign you sometimes see on cars belonging to ‘born again Christians’.

    Here is the explanation of that little oddity:

    “The use of the Ichthys symbol by early Christians appears to date from the end of the 1st century AD. Ichthus (ΙΧΘΥΣ, Greek for fish) is an acronym, a word formed from the first letters of several words. It compiles to “Jesus Christ God’s Son Saviour”, in ancient Greek “Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ”

    * Iota is the first letter of Iesous (Ἰησοῦς), Greek for Jesus.
    * Chi is the first letter of Christos (Χριστóς), Greek for “anointed”.
    * Theta is the first letter of Theou (Θεοῦ), that means “of God”, genitive case of Θεóς “God”.
    * Upsilon is the first letter of Huios (Υἱός), Greek for Son.
    * Sigma is the first letter of Soter (Σωτήρ), Greek for Saviour.

    Historically, twentieth century use of the ichthys motif is an adaptation based on an Early Christian symbol which included a small cross for the eye or the Greek letters “ΙΧΘΥΣ”. Catholic theology has elaborated on the five words of the acronym into the “Jesus prayer”, or, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

    Anyway, I do enjoy these journeys of discovery. While I was in London, I happened to be strolling down the Fulham Road. I had just popped into the store belonging to a well known Zimbabwean, Patrick Mavros. http://www.patrickmavros.com/index.php. Having left, I continued my walk and almost immediately came across an antiquarian book store, the name of which I have forgotten. Inside were some fabulous old books and beautiful prints. I opened a volume on British Admirals, hoping to find something about, yes, you have guessed it, an ancestor of mine. (Actaully he was a great, great uncle.) Instead I found the story of Admiral Byng who was court-martialed and shot for having failed to fully engage the enemy at the Battle of Minorca in 1756. It was of John Byng that Voltaire said, in his novel Candide, “Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres.” Apparently the Duc de Richelieu had watched the sea battle from land and had written to Voltaire asking him to plead Byng’s case with the British Admiralty. The duke said that Byng had done all that was reasonably possible and acted with honour. I can’t imagine that the noble intentions of the French would have helped Byng’s case. I found the story fascinating and would have loved to have been able to get a copy of the entire history which was written with a great deal of sympathy for Byng. Every year on the anniversary of his death, bells sound in Southill, Bedfordshire, where his descendents still live. The government still refuses to grant him a pardon.

    My visit to the shop was indeed serendipitous. Unbeknownst to me a couple of months earlier, this article had appeared The Telegraph http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jameskirkup/100079771/remembering-admiral-byng-and-encouraging-other-military-leaders/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter
    and this in the Spectator

  3. August 22, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Absolutely no pity for your Sunday indigestion. Self-inflicted.

    Interesting about the fish symbol. I knew that it had something to do with Greek, but had also always vaguely connected it to the idea of Jesus being the fisher of men. There are also the loaves and the fishes of the feeding of the five thousand in my mind. Sunday School.

    I did not know that Byng was the actor behind the ‘pour encourager les autres’ line. Interesting story. I read elsewhere that the terrible injustice he received really did become the motor behind the later successes of the British Navy. Perhaps pardoning Byng would be akin to breaking the beaker from Syria.

    You raise interesting ideas about links and time. You are always interesting.

  4. August 22, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Well thank you. I think that is about the greatest compliment I could ask for. I have already forgiven your lack of concern for my digestive ailments.

    I have a question for you. Given your fluency in languages, do you find that when you read a novel that has been translated from the original, much of the style is lost in the translation. Many years ago I read War and Peace in two parts. The thing was that each had different translators and the difference was very telling with part one being far more readable and eloquently written than part two. I am currently reading The Idiot (I am ashamed to say that it has taken me a while, but I have been distracted) and I find it very stilted and clumsy; literal, but lacking literary style. I cannot believe that the edition I am reading would have met with FD’s approval. I had no such problems with Crime and Punishment or Brothers K. (I cant spell their surname!) I have not found another edition of the The Idiot to compare, but I worry that I am being unwittingly pretentious! Do you find French novels, for example, lose something when translated to English, or vice versa? And do you find that some translations are better and more readable than others?

  5. August 22, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    I do not think that I have ever read anything written by the Ruskies although things like ‘War and Peace’ and ‘The Idiot’ are available in translation on my bookshelves. I tend to be put off by the fact that they are translations and very long too. Hold on, I once saw a Russian play with ‘cherry’ in the title. Must check. I like Nabokov, but he wrote the things I have read of his in English. ‘Lolita’ is not a translation, for example.

    I also admit to never having read ‘Madame Bovary’ in French. I read the whole book in two hours in English translation. This was a controlled Flaubertian panic before my finals. Otherwise, my knowledge of French literature and Spanish literature is via the original.

    Everything is lost in translation, of course. My children are currently enamoured by an American series called ‘Modern Family’ which they receive in French on French television. I am not one for that sort of Yank/Yid humour, but believe me, it is even worse in French.

    I know too that the vast majority of English-speaking people who say that they love Shakespeare do not understand most of the language therein. We spoke about this years ago on MyT, and you and I were the only ones who were honest enough to admit it.

    I believe in enjoyment, and the knowledge that there is always a seam of ignorance running alongside.

  6. Sipu
    August 22, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    Oh my goodness, don’t mention Madame Bovary. I once had a ‘liaison dangereuse’ (???) with a French woman who gave it to me to read. It took somewhat longer than 2 hours, but I empathise with the pressure, albeit a different sort of pressure. It depressed me no end – too close to home. Apart from that, I have read very few French works. I am a plodder with books. My sister is a very fast reader, but I think she sometimes misses the soul of the book and just goes for the facts.

    I think you must have been talking about the Cherry Orchard – Chekhov. Never read him or Pushkin or that Czech fellow, Kafka. My rule with reading is that when I am at home, I am only allowed to read books that will educate me so at some point I will have to get down to those authors. When I am on holiday, i.e. away from home, even for a weekend, I can read any junk I like. I even picked up a Georgette Heyer the other day. Actually, I think Ms Heyer served a useful purpose in that she gave me an interest in the Regency period.

    Lolita. Now that is an interesting book. Fortunately I was given a copy by another girlfriend, who came from Atlanta of all places. You have to understand that this is not a book that any male can easily go and purchase without attracting wayward glances and raised eyebrows from suspicious sales staff. I hasten to add that it was her idea that I read it. An extraordinary book but not one that can reasonably be made into a film. I think that is why both have flopped. In both cases they made Delores older than she was in the book which removed much of the shock factor. I see that Jeremy Irons, who played the second Humbert Humbert has been up to his tricks seducing young girls in new TV production of the Borgias.

    You must read Brother Karamazov if just for one scene alone, that of ‘The Grand Inquisitor’. It is long, but a great book. I managed to persuade an Afrikaans friend of mine to read it. If he can enjoy it, you certainly will.

    I have not heard of Modern Family so cannot comment.

    Speaking of ignorance I read something the other day which struck a chord. Umberto Eco has, apparently, a massive personal library. He said that most people who come to see it ask the same question. ‘How many of these books have you read?’ Boring. However, one person asked, ‘which of these books have you not yet read?’ What pleasure is there in a book that you have already read? It is the ones you have not read that hold excitement.

    Sleep well. xx

  7. August 22, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    V boring little final paragraph, Sipu, and shame on you for dragging that poor Umberto Eco chap into into platitude.

    I have my own question. In retrospect, which do you think it was :

    ‘What a waist!’ or

    ‘What a waste!’ ?

    I have always wondered.

  8. Sipu
    August 22, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    Ok, so I have not gone to bed yet. Your last comment is enigmatic. I do not understand. Why ‘poor’ Umberto Eco? What is it that makes that last para particularly boring? Was it really a platitude? Oh dear. I was being sincere, though I guess by admitting that it makes it worse. But I genuinely do get a thrill when I see a shelf full of books that I have not yet read. When I visit a new house, I look at the books.

    I have broken a rule. Never explain, never complain!

    The answer to your question: ‘what a waist!’
    I am an optimist and I love women.

    Now that is a platitude!

  9. August 22, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    I am delighted that it was about the waist. Were you wearing a cummerbund at the time? Gentlemen look particularly dashing in those.

    Who cares about Umberto Eco and boring old books!

  10. August 23, 2011 at 7:52 am

    I am sorry Cymbeline, I cannot recall the incident to which you refer. I must have posed the conundrum on some earlier post but I cannot remember where or when. I suspect that in any event, it was apocryphal. There are few occasions to dress up these days, especially in South Africa. I think most recently I wore my tartan trews with black tie and double breasted jacket, so no cummerbund. In my youth, I used to enjoy the flamboyance of full Highland dress. On only two occasions, that I recall, have I worn white tie. (American weddings do not count!)

    The thing is that even when people do dress up, they behave so badly that the impact is wasted. No longer do demure young maidens stand bashfully waiting to be asked to dance by shy young men. Instead everybody arrives already tipsy, shouting inappropriately at each other across the room. Bah humbug!

  11. August 23, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    Sipu. I was only teasing. You are always charming and interesting and your thought is often delightfully daring.

    I have been intrigued by your ‘what a waist/waste’ story for a long time. Excellent example of how things can be interpreted/translated in different ways, depending on context and perception. With a story like that, I do not need to know what the person really meant and after all, it is none of my business anyway. Wondering/wandering is far more interesting. Perhaps this is the definition of literature.

    Translation is never easy and is almost always incomplete or inexact. Ultimately however, translation is always preferable to the laziness of never trying to understand. I think too that my remark about knowing that there will always be a seam of ignorance is linked to the ideas you raise about unread books. And like you, I always head for the bookshelves when I am a guest in someone else’s house.

    I have not worn a ball gown for years. Actually, I have only ever owned one, and it was from a Laura Ashley sale. My sisters and I always used to go to formal affairs dressed in simple long dresses made of cotton.

  12. August 23, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    “Simple long dresses made of cotton”. Perfect. I love simple elegance that shows off the beauty of the woman rather than ostentatious displays of her material possessions or her husband’s wealth. Gilding the lily and all that.

    You will laugh, I am sure, but I am about to head out for the unveiling of a face. A friend of mine has just had a lift and now that the swelling has subsided she wants to show it off for the first time this evening. Cape Town women are obsessed by botox and boob-jobs. It really can get completely out of control. Women who allow themselves to grow old gracefully are generally far more attractive than those who insist in going under the knife and end up looking like startled burn victims. I am often asked for my opinion by women who are considering having something done and I am always ignored.

    I had not thought about it when you first raised the waste/waist business, but it is rather in keeping with the theme of this blog. Four Candles/Fork Handles.

    As an aside, I am pretty immune to teasing. I have a vast family and have, by necessity, developed a thick skin. That does not mean I am good at detecting irony and sarcasm, I am not. It just means that I don’t get offended by it.

  13. August 23, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    You make some very funny observations. Ah, the moneyed ladies of Cape Town! I know exactly what you mean by the ‘startled burn victim’ look. Actually, I think that they must be very brave women. Bloody hell, I would not let anyone come near me with a sharp scalpel or a botox needle. Would frighten me to death.

    Enjoy the launch of the new face. Best wishesxxx

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