The power of mythic figures, symbols and ideas

By Lennox Farrell Thursday May 30 2013 in Opinion
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What do the capital cities of Western civilization have in common?


According to an episode of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Ideas” program, the cities of London, Madrid, Berlin and Ottawa are all built in locations dominated by seven hills.


In fact, to facilitate these cultural co-ordinates in America, Washington, D.C., the country’s capital, was established in what was then a swamp. Millions of tons of dirt had to be brought in to assist in draining this swamp. Even the builders of less prestigious cities like the infamous Lynchburg in Virginia followed this trend.


These cultural traditions and cityscapes were, moreover, at the core of the symbolisms and ethos of Nazi Germany. Mussolini, of Fascist Italy – the word derived from the Roman fasces – used this to describe his dictatorship; one harking back to those of Imperial Rome.


These common traits and endeavours are in no way accidental or happenstance.


In addition to their public institutions being built according to early Roman styles using Doric columns, etc., and their political systems identified with Senate systems and Senators, all of these countries hue to the traditions laid down by a Roman writer historian, Livy (59 BC-AD 17). According to Livy, Rome, founded by the brothers Remus and Romulus – both nursed as babies by a wolf – was built within the foundations of seven hills.


Known in the English as Livy, this historian, Titus Livius Patavinus, wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people, Ab Urbe Condita Libri, (Books from the Foundation of the City). It covered periods from the earliest legends of Rome, from 753 BC to the reign of Augustus in Livy’s own time.


You can say that the cultural roots and symbolisms of Western civilization are the most powerful brand on earth. Be it in London, Ottawa, Madrid, the United Nations, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, etc., Rome rules!


Some of these Western countries, for example Britain, have additional symbolisms. These brands are what give unwritten and unassailable social, political and military ethos to what is today’s England. As children growing in the West Indies, we were all imbued with stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. English myths were pushing a form of egalitarianism among its subdued peoples.


In our time, too, as young adults, and in American trends which continue to the present, we were charmed by the idea of “Camelot”; a sense of British royalty taking captive, the then White House occupied by President John F. Kennedy and his spouse, Jacqueline Kennedy. Even today, President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, are often cast in this political/cultural/romantic vein.


How were the ethos of the Round Table translated into the ideas which the English and their colonized peoples adopted and honoured? One English song for schoolchildren was, “Britain’s flag will always stand for justice, Britain’s flag will always stand for peace…”


Apparently, we as schoolchildren were better tutored about these aspirations than was the British flag. Traditionally called the Union Jack, the name is supremely ironic, given the range of divisions fostered in Britain’s colonial empire in places as Ireland, Nigeria, etc.


In Ireland, 1801, following a republican United Irishmen Rebellion, the Irish Parliament – already severely weakened and compromised – was abolished. The English legislation, integrating Ireland into what was a New United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland is still known as the Act of Union. It was akin to a woman being forced to bed with a man who, against her will, had compromised her virginity.


Ironic, too, is that all these honourable and time-crested values coming from King Arthur’s Round Table of equality of and for all, and the accompanying romance of Camelot are more myth than fact. According to some historians today, there is even the possibility that Arthur, if he ever existed, was more Breton and French than English.


What’s the point of the above? Western civilization in general and Britain’s in particular are the powerhouses they are today because of the mythical histories and legends laid down by writers as Livy and more specific to British culture, the later Geoffrey de Monmouth’s fanciful and imaginative 12th century Historia Regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain).


For the Irish, colonized by Britain for more than 800 years, the person to whom they turn for historic and cultural legitimacy is Geoffrey Keating (1570-1644). He was an Irish-Catholic theologian who had to write in secret because of English laws against Irish treason and Catholicism. Keating’s three volume magnum opus, Foras Feasa ar Earinn, written in the 17th century, and translated, “Foundation of Knowledge on Ireland”, is today called History of Ireland.


Specifically regarding Black people in Ireland, then Eire; Keating, in recalling Irish-Celtic mythology, wrote of the Fomorians, or Fomors. A race of giants, they occupied Ireland before the Gaels. These Fomorians, dark-skinned, woolly-haired sailors who arrived from Africa, were said to be the offspring of Noah’s son, Ham. The Fomorians, according to The Book of the Dun Cow, fought off several invaders. The last of these, the Firbolgs, subdued the Fomorians, with whom they eventually lived in peace.


Like the Arthurian legends of Monmouth and those of Remus and Romulus by Livy, Keating’s writings are also considered mythic. They are potent with symbolism, self-determination and self-assurance. These myths have worked to advance Europeans. What and who are the mythic features and figures of Africa and of Africa’s descendants in this hemisphere?


They, in my opinion surely include those of Palmares in 18th century Brasil and Cap-Haïtien in 19th century Haiti. One the first independent republic – later overthrown – and the other, Black revolutionaries, former slaves who defeated in battle, the combined armies of Europe, then as now, the supreme military and economic powerhouses known to mankind.


Today, it is primarily from the political sanctuaries that decisions are made affecting Earth and even other planets. The powerhouses of European capitals are where it is decided who will be villain and who virtuous; who lives and who dies.


Europe’s fingers are in every pie, including those of international institutions: the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the International Court of Justice, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other International finance and banking systems.


In short, Rome rules, through current proxies like American exceptionalism, Rule Britannia, NATO, etc.

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