Day 8 India, Tharoor’s Inglorious empire

Friday, 30 December 2022

Friday, 30 December 2022

I should pace myself, define my work sessions better and give the 77-year old a chance. Instead, I charge on and end up like today, feeling listless and uncreative. Or it might, more banally, just be the onset of a simple cold. But my mood also has to do with my starting to read one of the more serious books on my list, Shashi Tharoor’s “Inglorious Empire. What the British did to India”. 2016 (17). It’s part revulsion at what cupidity led the sometimes gormless younger sons of the aristocracy and unattractive others to do. But also an awareness of the extent of the task to try to understand how British colonialism and imperialism worked, the need to look at not just textiles, but the Indian steel industry, shipbuilding etc. and understand the effects of the clashes of social forces and that we are not dealing with the workings of a machine but a process where various outcomes were possible.

I have quoted five short extracts from Tharoor’s work below to give a feel of his book.

“In power, the British were, in a word, ruthless. They squeezed out other foreign buyers and instituted a [an East India] Company monopoly. They cut off export markets for Indian textiles interrupting longstanding independent trading links, As British manufacturing grew, they went further, Indian textiles were remarkably cheap. so much so that Britain’s cloth manufacturers, unable to compete, wanted them eliminated. The soldiers of the East India Company obliged, systematically smashing the looms of some Bengali weavers and according to at least one contemporary account (as well as a widespread if unverifiable, belief), breaking their thumbs so they could not ply their craft”. (p,6)

“India had enjoyed a 25 per cent share of the global trade in textiles in the early eighteenth century. But this was destroyed, the Company’s own stalwart administrator Lord William Bentinck wrote that ´the bones of the cotton weavers were bleaching the plains of India´. (p.7)

“The destruction of artisanal industries by colonial trade policies did not just impact the artisans themselves. The British monopoly of industrial production drove Indians to agriculture beyond levels the land could sustain. This in turn had a knock-on effect on the peasants, who worked the land, by causing an influx of newly disenfranchised people, formerly artisans, who drove down rural wages”. (p,7)

“Under the British, the share of industry in India’s GDP was only 1.8 per cent in 1913, and at its peak reached 7.5 per cent when the British left in 1947. Similarly, the share of manufactured goods in India’s exports climbed only slowly to a high of 30 per cent in 1947”. (p.9)

“As late as 1896, Indian mills produced only eight per cent of the total cloth consumed in India. By 1913, this had grown to 20 per cent, and the setbacks faced by Britain with the disruption of the World War 1 allowed Indian textile manufacturers to slowly recapture the domestic market. In 1936, 62 per cent of the cloth sold in India was made by Indians, and by the time the British left the country, 76 per cent (in 1946). (p.8)

I haven’t studied Tharoor’s sources. His extensive bibliography indicates that he is a serious and painstaking author. He is an academic but also a Congress politician. His book interests me a lot and I think will be of great value to me, not least the bibliography. My negative reactions so far are that I sometimes find it hard to pin down his sources (although that might only reflect the fact that I have only nibbled at the introductory pages, the balanced and weighty coming perhaps later. His description of India and its economy as it was before the British took charge makes it sound as if India was more advanced than I believed it to have been (although undoubtedly British actions led to rolling back development) and that the depiction of social forces, the possibility of Indian capital developing in the interstices of an increasingly bureaucratised empire, is not (so far) sharply drawn.

Revisionists would undoubtedly quibble with his statistics (and he would defend them). But I am broadly convinced of much what he says. I do not believe that the British were at any point in India to help what they regarded as a benighted and backward country, that was very largely an ideological smokescreen. They were there, both during the colonial and the imperial periods, to make money, and they did; the white man was not shouldering a burden, he (she) was a burden.

And if a thief, who has smashed up your house while removing your valuables, happens to leave a fine ladder and torch behind, this is not a mitigating circumstance (doffing my cap to the Indian railway system).

Day 7 India

Thursday, 29 December

Masked and with my inhalator at the ready, I make my first trip into central Kolkata to Metcalfe Hall, once a public library and now an exhibition venue after refurbishment. The exhibition “Ami Kolkata” (I am Kolkata) is excellent with fine historical photographs, posters and other cultural items (see my Facebook page for photos).

I learn from Intach’s “Calcutta Built Heritage Today” that the design of Metcalfe Hall was based on the Temple of Winds in Athens, which I assume is the same as the Tower of the Winds; the similarity between this building and Metcalfe Hall is not immediately obvious to me but I’ll struggle for a while and see I can’t get my porticos, colonnades and verandas in order. According to Wiki, the Tower of the Winds was the first meteorological station in the world and there are eight sundials below the frieze depicting the eight wind deities Boreas (N), Kaikias (NE), Apeliotes (E), Eurus (SE), Notus (S), Livas (SW) Zephyrus (W) and Skiron (NW). I already knew Boreas and Zephyr but am pleased to make the acquaintance of the others. It feels good to see a well refurbished building as there are many fine, even exquisite, buildings in poor condition.

The Tower of the Winds inspired other buildings among them – St Pancras Church in London and the mausoleum of the founder of the Greek National Library, Panayis Vagliano at West Norwood cemetery, long on my list as one of the magnificent seven, the Victorian cemeteries of London.

St Pancras church has been in my thoughts but not “new” St Pancras church referred to here but Old St Pancras Church towards Camden. A sliver of the church graveyard had to be sacrificed to allow the Midland Railway access St Pancras station. The cavalier treatment of the unearthed bones caused a scandal and none other than Thomas Hardy, an architect in training at that time, was instructed to deal with the matter. His ingenious solution was to re-inter the skeletal remnants and stack the gravestones in a striking circle around a tree. Sadly, the tree was attacked by a fungus a couple of years ago and its saga is now all. I’m glad I managed to get there and photograph it.

This followed by coffee at the Old Post Office building, another restored architectural icon, and the Oxford Bookshop in Park St before being deterred by the 40-minute queue from a visit to Peter Cat, a favourite restaurant.  We make instead for the Metropolitan Library with its large collection of old and new books about Calcutta, among other topics, on dusty shelves with books replaced by readers in gay abandon so that the Bhagavad Gita is nestling alongside a handbook on environmental science.  But there is treasure to be found in the biblio wildlands and there is nothing wrong with the workspaces, it’s not at all crowded and will undoubtedly become one of my “oases” in the struggle to learn more about the megacity.

Finally, to a mall where I look for shortbread to replace my hosts’ massacred packet, victim of a nocturnal feeding frenzy. I find only digestive, which doesn’t quite obliterate the memory of my gluttony.

Back to base and now to continue reading Shashi Tharoor “Inglorious Empire. What the British did to India”, my daily Bengali and some Pagnol for a varied diet.

Day 6 India

Wednesday, 28 December

I start the day by coming to terms with the cold-water washing machine. Before coming to India, I would have doubted its existence as this is not a machine dedicated to familiar 30 and 40 but actually cold water with special washing powder. My laundry session passes without incident apart from my emptying the machine when it had only paused to think about its next step. Any person with a normal relationship to the physical world would have stayed their hand on seeing that the machine was still half filled with water. Yours truly empties the machine and spends a soggy half hour rinsing and squeezing. But the crisis passes and my sticker certifying that this house has been trashed by David Kendall remains in my pocket for another day.

After my regular hour of Bengali, I make a start on Piers Breedon’s “The Decline and Fall of the British Empire 1781-1997”. One of my aims this trip is to learn more about how the British controlled the Indian economy in their interests and how that control weakened. Breedon is not so useful as India is only part of his study and much of it focuses on political rather than economic developments (and there is rather too much chit chat about the vagaries of the leading figures for my taste). However, there are a couple of points that interested me. He tells us (writing about the 1930s on p. 385) that “the economic ties between the two countries were unravelling. Indian business was developing independently of Britain…Between the wars, it became clear to the British that, despite fluctuations in benefits conferred and costs incurred, India was a declining asset. In particular, the subcontinent was manufacturing its own cotton goods as well as importing cheap fabrics from Japan and it no longer provided a large captive market for the products of Lancashire. Moreover, threatened with resignations from the Viceroy’s Executive Council, Britain could not even prevent India from imposing a protective tariff on English textiles”. I’d assumed before that independence was key for the loosening of British control but here it seems that it was a longer process. There was also a reference to B.R. Tomlinson’s “The Political Economy of the Raj 1914-1947” which looks as if it could be seriously useful. Not much time will pass before Amazon India’s motorcycle makes its hopefully careful way up our country path…

The other point, not directly related to my focus but still of general interest consisted of comments about the Labour Party’s take on independence in the years before 1947. According to Brendon (p. 401), “Paradoxically [hmm], Nehru had more respect for Churchill, whom he considered an honourable foe, than for the ‘humbugs of the British Labour Party’. Many of them were humbugs. They were staunch enemies of imperialism yet (in Herbert Morrison’s classic phrase) ‘great friends with the jolly old Empire’. They were committed to Indian self-government but vague about how and when it would be achieved. Yet if Labour politicians were more apt to prate about principles than the Tories, they scarcely differed from them in practice. Socialists were unwilling to sacrifice Britain’s global position to anti-colonial dogma. In the words of Ernest Bevin, the hard-boiled Foreign Secretary, ‘if the British Empire fell, the greatest collection of free nations would go into the limbo of the past’. Bevin actually wanted to stand firm and draft in younger men to hold India¨. And elsewhere on p,400, Attlee’s comment in response to an initiative by Viceroy Wavell that he was ‘frankly horrified by the prospect of ceding power to a ‘brown oligarchy’. Not exactly staunch anti-imperialists.

Otherwise, I made some progress on my interpretation of my photo of a shrine (see Facebook). Google’s attribution to Lord Shiva was, as I suspected, inaccurate. It was in fact the divine carpenter, god of construction and engineering Vishvakarman, whom I’d never heard of, revered by craftspeople and appropriate for these parts where there are many small enterprises producing, for example, surgical instruments. Perhaps a god for my family where there are carpenters and wheelwrights on my father’s side, who himself engaged in small-scale woodwork. But not for me as, while the carpentry gene is present among some of my children, my memories of carpentry lessons at school are not happy ones and my current relationship to woodwork is extremely chaste. CORRECTION I was wrong about the identification of the shrine with Vishvarkarman. It is in fact Kartikeya, the Hindu God of War. Vishvarkarman is popular around these parts but this is not He.

Day 5 India

Tuesday, 27 December

Up relatively early to travel 20 km by auto (three-wheeled motorised rickshaw) to see some land owned by my hosts. These green and yellow rickshaws are everywhere in Bengal, except perhaps in central Kolkata. Sometimes they have fixed routes and you can travel quite long distances by transferring from route to route at certain locations. Weaving along Indian roads in heavy traffic, like a dodgem ride without a seat belt, is unnerving to start with but I’m used to it by now and the pace of traffic is slow. We are only close to one incident when a rider on a passing motorbike swerves and loses control (he falls off shortly after but is able to get up unaided).

I’ve been looking forward to seeing this patch of land, the expanse making the word “patch” inappropriate. At the same time, apprehensive as I feared that snakes might dispute that this is human domain. I’ve not access to the statistics but farmers are vulnerable to snakebites. They are underreported, many people not going to the hospital, some relying on folk medicine “remedies” (one research report I read mentions the practice of tying a stone (snake stone) to the bite wound and then getting the patient to walk on it to draw out the venom). In these parts, it’s most often the highly venomous krait that bites. The most dangerous period of the year is the monsoon when snakes like people are disturbed by water masses and have to leave their accustomed locations.

I need not have worried about this smallholding, however. The land is open without long grass and you can see where you are putting your feet. About as likely as being bitten by a weasel in West Sussex, unless you root around in the vegetation at the foot of the banana trees.

It felt very fine to sit calmly close to the pond after being much indoors during the days of yule. It’s important here to have a pond to store monsoon water as it doesn’t rain much at other times.

Back at the house, I sleep most of the afternoon, dreaming unpleasantly that I am climbing down the outside of a very tall building. It got better toward the end though when I realised that trying to scale down the exterior could only lead to disaster and I slid through some convenient aperture to land on a rather domestic carpet, whence I could make my way down the stairs.

I finished Chattopadhyay’s novels in the wee hours, still anarchic when it comes to the Circadian with periods of alertness not related to Bengali or European time. I have much more respect for the novel after a careful reading, although I felt he pulled his punches at the end when the emancipated lady finds her ally in life, resolves her financial problems and gains the respect of the most bitterly traditional of her opponents. But it was after all written as long ago as 1931; Chattopadhyay is skilful at making didactic dialogue readable.

I’ll do some Bengali today – I have practised saying “cold water” when our driver threw himself into the pond. I wouldn’t have done that for fear of terrors in the deep but he emerged refreshed and unscathed.

Day 4 India

Monday, 26 December 2022

I take the quieter path past smallholdings with their ponds, the occasional shrine, young men idling on their motorbikes and load-burdened women accompanied by children.

This time I try an experiment, receiving to my pleasure a shy smile from some of the likelier folk in response to mine. In the West Country, you greet a meeting stranger, perhaps making some cheery comment and waving a badly folded Ordinance Survey map. But not here (especially not the B.F.O.S) where eyes are averted and the European stranger glides awkwardly past; probably shyness rather than hostility but it makes me feel uncomfortable, taking my distance in a tense badly fitting way alien to me. Until now I have conformed, but this time I decided not to, feeling that Bengal and I had to come to an understanding about this. It’s not an aggressive change of policy on my part but instead of averting my gaze, I attempt to look friendly and allow eyes to meet (I would prefer not to see a film of myself doing this but it does seem to work as intended).

Apart from shy smiles, I photograph flowers and, with more caution, shrines. I acquaint myself with the pretty Red Arrowroot of the Canna family, according to my plant recognition program, the first species to be described by Linnaeus in his Species planetarium (I must check this). It has medicinal uses and a clutch of alternative names and is also used in palaeolithic cooking, which I had never heard of but which seems to consist of aiming at a diet before humans ceased to be nomadic and start farming. Low on dairy products and high on what is available for gathering and killing although the subsequent transformation of the palaeolithic environment and its fauna and flora must be a problem.

There is also a shrine which Google Images assures me is Lord Shiva but I’m doubtful as it is in this case a shiva with eccentric attributes. To be investigated with someone more Hinduwise than I.

Since moving to Sweden with its convenient “mellandagar” (“between days”) to describe the passage from Santa to the following year, I’ve been irritated by the absence of a convenient expression in English for this period, “the days between Christmas and the New Year” being language as a stumbling block rather than an aid to communication. My casual import from the French of “bridge days” attracted comment and a Facebook and otherwise friend, told me that the Scots use the expression “daft days”. This apparently comes from a poem but has roots in the French fetes des Foux going back to the twelfth century. Once Google had grasped that I was not looking for cut-price pizza, I found some helpfully obscure sites in French, telling me about how the clergy organised events on the streets with schoolchildren (in the 12th century?) and some splendidly called Basochiens, apparently associations of the legally trained and clerks. It’s not clear whether the clerics participated in these street frolics but there was a pape des fous (a bonkers pope) as well as a bonkers bishop and abbot (presumably not the genuine article). Supposed to honour the donkey on which Jesus entered Jerusalem, the festival is intertwined with saint days celebrating the festival of the innocents and later French religious festivals, presumably a result of repeated efforts by church and state authorities to bring some order into these shenanigans and associate them with something more easily controlled.

Links back to the Roman Saturnalia were also mentioned but suffering from thread fatigue, I went no further.

For the time being I will stick with bridge days, which seems to better correspond to our contemporary struggle to overcome the bloated and ease our way back to a muted form of everyday life after the red and white frenzy.

Day 3 India

Sunday, 25 December

We do Christmas Swedish style on the 24th, the 25th a day of slow-paced leftovers. Then by two-stroke green and yellow “auto” to find footwear to replace out-of-control thong sandals. I found the shops in the local town paralysing when I first walked the three or four kilometres from the house, the winding road reminding me of teenage wanderings on Somerset Sundays. But now my eye has grown accustomed to India aided by light gentrification as Kolkata cautiously approaches, and Bengali retail holds few terrors.

Having sorted my feet out satisfactorily, I turn to the other end but here progress is sluggish.

I start for the nth time on the first lesson of my Bengali book, remembering the words for tiger, garden and mango, to enrich whatever surrealistic comments I feel I need to puzzle the locals with.

And then there is Chattopadhyay’s “The Final Question”, checking every cultural reference. The first essential lesson is not to hunt for the holy grail of neat explanation. The past has thrown down to us a complicated and contradictory tangle of myths and stories. The road to peaceful cohabitation of this area of knowledge with the other contents of one’s brain lies in accepting it as it is, in much the same spirit as approaching the world of the Nordic Gods, except that the pantheon here is even more complex. I am a little soft on the Goddess of knowledge, Saraswati, or Sarasvati as she prefers to be known in Sanskrit.

I dabble with applied Hinduism and add “hypergamy” and “hypogamy” to my stock, meaning marrying upward and downward in the caste hierarchy respectively. And learn that the word “caste” has been foisted on the Indians, probably initially by the Portuguese. And wrestle with the sub-divisions “jati” (clan) and “varna”, occasionally pinning them down for an ecstatic moment before they again slip through my hands wriggling away into the mist of unknowing.

St Jerome is with me and I want to write about his life as a translator, obtaining clarity about his bible translations and his theological positions and disputes with people such as Origen. Not too much of the latter as I suspect it is an invitation to dance in a marsh never to be seen again….

And when I tire of quirky obscurity, I have my collection of books about the British and India, wanting to know more about their means of controlling the Indian economy and the extent to and how the Indians freed themselves from the malevolent imperial embrace. I will have to think about how I combine these projects but it will have to wait until the bridge days are upon us, pointing forward to the coming glories of 2023.

Bengal, the second day

Day 2 Bengal, Saturday, 24 December

07.45 Indian time, 03.15 Swedish time

Awake bright and early and I don’t feel much affected by the change of time zone. a couple of dips yesterday when I slept for an hour or so at odd times but that was all. West to east usually bothers me more but not this time, perhaps because my body is used to being called into action at odd times.

No stirring of life from the household yet, apart from a chicken cacophony, leading me to peer out of the window, wondering derring-do was required, unarmed combat against a Bengali fox (or worse a snake, whose breakfast I would hesitate to disturb).

Otherwise, nature doesn’t feel threatening although as always in India, I stick to my own revir and don’t beat about the bush. I sleep under a mosquito net, although I have hardly seen any frustrated bloodsuckers entangled in the net. It’s dengue fever rather than malaria, which threatens here.

I spent my favourite morning hours on the veranda yesterday, watching a stork picking its way through the greenery. I felt euphorically relaxed, released from the half-conscious strain of holding a hostile climate at bay. It’s milder than it was last time I was here in the winter, the temperature touching the mid-20s on my day of arrival. It feels strange to abandon my dressing the onion morning routine of layer upon layer, feeling half naked in just a shirt and trousers.

I love these quiet morning hours, even the seven cats associated with the house are quiet, not trying to impress me with tales of woe about not having been fed for months. I have become friends with a sleek black lady boss cat, new since my last visit, very aimable with humans, who won my heart by curling up beside me during one of my cat naps, but who is evidently not to be trifled with in matters of the allocation of space around the food dish.

I am being careful to keep the nature romantic on a tight leash and sit bolt upright at the dining room table instead of trying to be at one with the world on the veranda. After my weeks of preparation, I am looking forward to uninterrupted reading but will wait until Christmas has passed before making a plan of what I want to achieve.

This morning I started the day by skimming an article on Ukraine in the latest NLR, by Volodymyr Ischeno on what it means to decolonize Ukraine, the regime obliterating everything Russian and discussing western dreams of further dismemberment of Russia a la Austro-Hungary.

A brave person although I didn’t grasp the writer’s calls to action. I will read it again more slowly later.

My current reading is Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s “The Final Question”. He lived from 1876 to 1938 and wrote this novel, Shesh Prashna, the Final Question, one of his later works. Unlike his earlier works, where any social criticism is integrated into the plot (similar to say Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles), this is a “dialectical novel”, a category quite clear but which I haven’t used before. It’s set in the Bengali community in Agra (outside Bengal) and consists mainly of a series of dialogues with the “heroine” Karmal who, according to the back cover blurb “is exceptional for her time. She lives and travels by herself, has relationships with various men,,,,and asserts the autonomy of the individual being in the process”, this through the prism of translators at the English literature department of a Bengali university. I should like to find a newspaper and read reviews from the time it was written (it considerably upset more traditionally minded Bengalis). I’m curious about the title “the Final Question” and wonder whether it exactly reflects the Bengali.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a letter of recommendation. I could probably access the material anyway but don’t want to intensify my memory of the library official, too kindly to prohibit access to an evidently harmless silvertop but agonised over breaking the rules, and who hovered curiously and uncertaínly by my elbow as I traced the fate of a nineteenth century Swedish missionary in Bengal (outside my core field of interests but quirky enough to get me to spend an hour or two tracking his career in the sources).

I shall try to get to Chattopadhyay’s birthplace about 20 miles north of Kolkata. You can get almost the whole way by train, it’s probably doable as it’s on a main line. Hopefully there will be an exhibition at his house and perhaps people to talk to who know about him.

I’m reading his book very slowly now and following up all the unfamiliar or half familiar references, getting to know more about Bengali culture in much the same way as a bird extricates a half buried worm, finding an end to pull on and seeing what it brings me, checking the exact meaning of “begum”, wondering who the Jats were/are, reading about the now partly dead Yamona river, and thinking about the relationship between Brahmins and the various “branches” of Hinduism as well as following the dialectic.

I want to restart my studies in the Bengali language too, which were making satisfactory but slow progress until squeezed out in my short period in Sweden.

Now I shall attempt to make myself a cup of coffee, which sounds banal but which involves controlling myself so that I don’t get overwhelmed by the Bengali kitchen. It’s been pedagogically explained to me a couple of times and I think I should be able to drag myself over the threshold. On previous occasions, I’ve felt uncomfortably passive in the kitchen, unable to quietly integrate myself in what’s happening as other members of my extended family do. But I’ve lived in Sweden too long not to feel like a cuckoo opening my beak and saying “feed me” as I sit at the table with my books, not oblivious to my surroundings. But my host who knows me well has a plan to teach me to make dal, which would be of great value to me (even at home) with my increasing distaste for meat. It’s sufficiently limited to prevent me being overpowered by the new. Whether my hosts think it was such a good idea when I start getting confident and producing wilder and more unconventional “dal” for days on end remains to be seen…..

Widdershins and myriads

Familiar words that I’m curious about the etymology of.

Chink in the sense of narrow opening or crack. Collins English dictionary tells us that it is from the Old English “cine” meaning crack, which has cognates in Danish and Middle Dutch. I was pleased to note that it’s related to the word “chine” used on the south coast, which I like the sound of but never previously realised that it was a word. It’s in the dictionary though as a southern English dialect word, meaning a deep fissure in the wall of a cliff.

Smirk, defined in the Concise Oxford as smiling in an irritating. smug or silly way, originating from the Old English sme(a)rcian, from a base shared with “smile”. Wikipedia tells us too about the common origin of smirk and smile, giving me the impression that smirk has somehow besmirched its reputation over the years. According to Collins, smirk is associated with the Old High German “bismer” meaning contempt (leading my thoughts to besmirch) and my Old English dictionary has “smerian” to laugh or to scorn, indicating that perhaps “smirk” has had a bad reputation from way back.

Myriad, which I’m fond of and know that it had to do with a large number, comes from (Classical) Greek meaning ten thousand and later innumerable. If you’re facing 10,000 enemies, you haven’t much time to count them so it’s best not to stop to count but to move on and regard them as innumerable (at least until you’ve decimated them).

Consiglere, I was familiar with as some kind of boss with sinister over or undertones. But it has a more exact meaning as the boss (often a criminal boss’s) right-hand man, someone high up in the organisation who is not the top dog. I’m glad to know but unlike myriad, it’s going to trip off my tongue rarely, if at all.

Barney – I vaguely knew and associated with groups of inebriated (mostly men) being together in a rowdy way but more exactly it seems to be a quarrel.

New words

“widdershins” was new to me and is apparently a Scottish word meaning contrary to the direction of the sun or more generally in the wrong direction. Collins adds that it’s a variant of “withershins”. I’m not sure that I can find a use for this word even though I do my share of widershinning.

Then there was “tunbellied”, to keep “potbellied” company, which I rather like. It’s easy to guess the meaning as “tun” is a beer cask. Somewhat more grandiose then than a pot belly.

And some “general knowledge words”

“peplos” is an item of apparel that women wore in ancient Greece.

I read in Wikipedia about the sacred peplos “On the last day of the month Pyanepsion, the priestess of Athena Polias and the Arrephoroi, a group of girls chosen to help in the making of the sacred peplos, set up the loom on which the enormous peplos was to be woven by the Ergastinai, another group of girls chosen to spend about nine months making the sacred peplos. They had to weave a theme of Athena’s defeat of Enkelados and the Olympian’s defeat of the Giants. The peplos of the statue was changed each year during the Plynteria.

The peplos played a role in the Athenian festival of the Great Panathenaea. Nine months before the festival, at the arts and crafts festival titled Chalkeia, a special peplos would begin to be woven by young women. This peplos was placed on the statue of Athena during the festival procession. The peplos had images of the mythic battle between gods and giants woven into its material and usually consisted of purple and saffron yellow cloth”.

I’m struck by similarities between the Nordic myths about the battles between the Gods and the giants and the Greek. But also about the great gaps in my education about the Greek myths. I would like to fill them.

Finally, a Swedish word “blodsten”, hematite in English. TNC’s geological dictionary (geologisk ordista) gives “hematite” (derived from the Greek for blood (haema) and meaning “blood resembling, some varieties of hematite having a red colouring. However, according to Wiki, the word “heliotrope” is also associated with bloodstone; I’m unsure of the distinction, whether one of the words is superordinate. The classic bloodstone is opaque green jasper with red inclusions of hematite. Heliotrope is also the name of a flower, its etymology being a combination of Greek words meaning turning towards the sun. According to Wiki, the application of the name heliotrope to a mineral was associated with the writings of Pliny the Elder who mentioned its use by magicians as a stone of invisibility. In India it was thought good to staunch bleeding, the gnostics wore it as an amulet for longevity and the ancient Romans and Greeks as a charm against the bite of venomous creatures.

All this and more in “The Book of Talismans, Amulets and Zodiacal Gems, by William Thomas and Kate Pavitt, [1922]. This is the point at which my thirst for knowledge turns into slight nausea.