Queen of the World – 4

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy zazzle.com

Things were now out of control.  Total chaos and anarchy ruled Constantinople, not Justinian or his Empress.  Beyond belief, women left their homes, flocked into the streets and urged their men to fight, to attack the royal palace.

Inside the palace, Emperor Justinian and his high-ranking officials discussed fleeing the city, which appeared to them to be their only option, if they wished to continue to live.

Again beyond belief, because women, even Empresses, did not address such Councils, Theodora rose and spoke to the gathered group of men.  She told them that flight was not only unthinkable, it was cowardly.  She urged them to send troops to the Hippodrome, where the rebels had now massed to select their own leader, to annihilate the rebels.

Shocked by her words and the fire in her eyes, the Council did as she suggested.  Troops marched on the Hippodrome, where they entered and wiped out the rebels.  30,000 to 50,000 people fell to the sword inside the Hippodrome.  In the days after the carnage, the property of all individuals who had joined the rebellion was confiscated.  Justinian used much of this wealth to reward his supporters, one of whom was Theodora.  She received the bulk of the confiscated monies and lands. 

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Queen of the World – 3

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy historycentral.com

While they waited, Theodora and Justinian connived to upset the political and economic well-being of Constantinople.  They were both members of a liberal-extremist group called the Blue Faction.  The Blue Faction was made up of young anarchists who despised everyone but other Blue Factionists, because everyone else was stupid, and unsophisticated.  Therefore the Blue Faction should be the power elite, not these other bumpkins.

Theodora and Justinian urged the Blue Faction to wreak notorious acts, acts which would unsettle the government, proving that Emperor Justin and Empress Lupicina were too old, too feeble, and incapable of continuing to rule.  Then Justinian could step-in, take over, and provide needed stability and decisiveness.

 Justinian, because of his position of power – that of Patrician and heir-apparent – would provide protection from the city magistrates for the Blue Faction’s help.  And not only protection, but also financial support and, after his goal was achieved, cash payoffs to those of great boldness.

Violence became the means that justified the end.  Urban muggings, robberies, and murders occurred all over the city.  The magistrates looked the other way, because they knew who was behind it, and who their protector was.  So they did what was politically and personally prudent – nothing.

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Queen of the World – 2

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy mayfairgames.com-

Back in the glimmering city, the Emperor Justin ruled over the empire.  Justin’s nephew, Justinian, lived in the royal palace of his uncle.  Justinian functioned as his uncle’s most trusted political advisor.  Most people saw Justinian as the next Emperor.

There is no record of how Theodora met Justinian, or of how she seduced him.  Whatever the means, she soon moved into the palace as a Patrician, living openly with Justinian.  Her promotion to the rank of Patrician came courtesy of Justinian.  The new ‘royal’ couple attended many religious ceremonies, as the appearance of purity, piety and probity was important to Justinian’s political future.  Because although he expected to be Emperor one day, still, even Emperors have to play by certain rules.  One of those rules in the Roman Empire was looking like a good, clean Christian. 

Besides which Theodora’s reputation had never been higher than now, at least in the eyes of respectable society.  So it didn’t hurt that her scintillating beauty found a spontaneous and proper showcase in churches and basilicas, a new stage for the exhibition of a new human goddess.  And Theodora felt at home in the limelight.  Wealth and property embraced her, and she them.  Everywhere she went her entourage went with her.  Friends, advisors, designers, maids, and the eunuchs, who formed her bodyguard.  As Theodora moved through the city her retinue flowed before and behind her, announcing her presence and ensuring her status.

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Queen of the World – 1

By Christopher Zoukis Image courtesy vhinkle.com She was a very practical woman, in everything, including death.  Sixteen years before she died, she gave a speech in which she said, “It is impossible for someone who has seen the light of this world not to die.”  She was thirty-four years old.  And she spoke the words […]

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The Giving Tree

By Christopher Zoukis Image courtesy everydaylanguage.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu- His name was Shel Silverstein and, like Sonny Liston, he was discovered dead in his home.  When his housekeepers left one Friday, he was fine.  Returning the following Monday, they found Shel lying on the floor.  Somewhere in that three-day window he died. He also wrote a children’s book […]

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Pere Lachaise – 2

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy npr.org

Walking over to section 68 of Pere Lachaise, a subtle change in ambience is noticeable, that is, if one has not sacrificed that receptivity assigned to the more vulgar senses.  An association or atmosphere clings to the section:  unseen ghosts, dissipated sounds, a suffused glory which doesn’t fade.  Probably due to two of the sections’ permanent residents, both of who are composers.  Their music pervades the area, because this is where their souls were laid to rest.  And music, of course, being God’s mathematics, is a soulish exhalation. 

And I suspect that angels, who are drawn to cemeteries, especially those like Pere Lachaise, Gothic with soot and stupendous statues, come and sing to the dead.  Whole choirs of angelic beings, like twinkling lights, singing Mozart’s Mass in C Minor.  They come because angels do not die.  Fascinated by the novelty of death, they study it, croon over it, regale it.

This fascination with death explains why, in particular, the angels visit section 68, specifically.  Because of the fiery death scenes in Carmen, and the man who wrote it.

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Pere Lachaise

By Christopher Zoukis  Pere Lachaise

It covers 118 acres of prime land, which would be worth several fortunes to modern developers.  Just thinking about it must cause developers to drool.  I mean what a waste of prime real estate! 

Pere Lachaise it’s called.  Victor Hugo once said, “To be buried in Pere Lachaise is like having mahogany furniture.”

The oldest cemetery in Paris, Pere Lachaise opened for business in 1804.  And did so by royal command of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was responding to a national emergency:  a lack of new burial sites.  So many dead and so little room to bury them.

Indeed, the ‘no vacancy’ problem came to Napoleon’s attention when, the relics of corpses at Cimetiere des Innocents (a cemetery in Paris), as if rising up at the Rapture, shifted, literally breaking through the wall of an apartment complex in which resided the living.  Spewing corpses into the basement of the building, along with a mist of mephitic effluvium, which practically asphixiated the residents, the incident set off government legislation closing all Parisian cemeteries and churchyards to further burials.

Nicholas Frochot, the city planner, by some mysterious means, purchased 118 acres of land from Baron Desfontaines, land that had once upon a time belonged to Louis XIV’s confessor, Pere Lachaise. 

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Madman or Mystical Genius? – 2

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy poetseers.org

Whether the result of his visions or of his innate personality, Blake despised the moral oppression of the Church and religion, calling such rules “enslavement.”  In Blake’s mind, the gospel of Jesus liberated mankind to joy and creativity.  Jesus did not come to choke mankind with ridiculous moral pronouncements and a system of religious one-up-manship. 

To Blake, life was not simply being alive in a human body.  It was so much more.  Life was the human spirit – the spiritual reality, which lived inside his physical body.  And it was this that Blake injected into his art.  He put it best when he wrote:

“We ever must believe a lie

When we see with, not through, the eye.”

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Madman or Mystical Genius? – 1

By Christopher Zoukis Image courtesy www.poetryfoundation The monument is the color of sand.  At the base of the monument a green stain grows, the trademark of lichen.  Surrounded by a gray cement walkway, the monument stands alone, looking like one half of the twin tablets upon which Moses carried the Ten Commandments. It stands in […]

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The Happiest Man Alive – 2

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy shenandoahliterary.org-

Once upon a time, the strewn ashes formed the skeletal infrastructure of Henry Valentine Miller, who called himself “the happiest man alive.”  Raw and robust in physique, he was tall, slender and gloriously ugly of face in an old-fashioned way.  Which means photographers sought him out, as the resulting photos exposed a most decorative piece of work – a delightful, irregular clot of ebullient life.

Born in Manhattan, New York, Miller grew up in Brooklyn.  For a short time he attended City College of New York, but dropped out because he found formal academics suffocating.  Miller wanted to write, eat, drink, and fornicate.  To live life like most people would, if they could only shed the itchy skin of sanctimony.

Miller moved to Paris in 1930, where he lived like a street person, sleeping on the floors of friends’ apartments, begging for food, scavenging and, of course, writing.  The literary fruit of this lifestyle was Tropic of Cancer, a ribald, autobiographical novel that reads like an animated, graphic essay.  Because of its overt sex scenes, honest language, and innovative style, no publisher in the United States would touch the book. 

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