The View from Malakand

There are links here, here, here, and here to a pdf of my and Prof. Olivieri’s open-access book on Harold Deane, political officer and archaeologist.

Blogs related to the research it involved me in are here (the Jahanabad Buddha, destroyed and restored); here (the search for Alexander’s Aornos); here (the edicts of Ashoka, and Deane’s role in their interpretation); here (Aurel Stein and Deane’s botanical collection); here (a Persian wordplay applied to Deane); and here (Deane’s dreams of Alexander).

You can also find me here, back in 2020, struggling to figure out Deane’s frankly shocking handwriting.

Ingenuo patre natus?

A snippet here, scribbled rapidly on a Saturday afternoon before the FA Cup final (in the event, I shouldn’t have scribbled so rapidly), from the research I’m doing toward Horace: A Very Short Introduction. The issue here is a detail, and quite a significant one given Roman snobbery, of the poet’s biography.

Horace’s stellar career, according to Horace himself, owed a lot to his father. But was his father born a slave?

If so, Horace’s career even prior to his success as a poet is stunningly unconventional. For instance, he enjoyed the Roman elite’s equivalent of higher education in Athens, hobnobbing with the most privileged stratum of Rome’s highly stratified society, and thereafter as tribunus militum, a rank again reserved for the Roman elite, he seems to have commanded a legion at Philippi. Rome was an intensely status-conscious place, and while the extremities of civil war brought inevitable compromises, that remains an unexpected CV for the son of an ex-slave.

Now, there is no question that Horace was in some sense “the son of a freedman”, his father a slave who had secured his freedom. Satire 1.6, which will feature a lot here, is clear that Horace was so considered by detractors at least (libertino patre natum, 1.6.6, 45-6). But an influential (and clever) article by Gordon Williams, “Libertino patre natus: true or false?”, in S.J. Harrison, Homage to Horace (1995), has argued that Horace was exaggerating the humbleness of his origins for effect (an important theme of the poem is the consideration due to people of lower social status), and that Horace’s father was only an ex-slave in a technical sense.

What Williams proposed was that Horace senior had been captured, in his youth, when the Romans took the rebel city of Venusia, Horace’s home town, at the end of the Social War in 88 BC. Once in captivity, he would likely have been considered a slave, Williams suggests with reference to known parallels, but his status might have been reversed fairly easily, in which case he could have quickly returned to his previous existence as a free inhabitant, potentially quite prominent and prosperous, of Venusia. In literal terms a freedman, then, but in social status far from a typical example.

Well, Williams’ argument rests on detailed readings of Satire 1.6, and I think it’s fair to say that Horace’s chatty style in the Satires (they are designed to read like the conversations of Romans at dinner) makes it hard to pin down precisely what he’s saying about himself—hard for Williams to ground his theory securely, but hard also for me to dispute it. But a word that features a lot in connection with Horace’s father seems to me important, and this is ingenuus. It can be used loosely to mean something like “respectable” or “gentlemanly”, but its core meaning is “freeborn”, and in a poem where social categories are at issue, in general and with reference to Horace’s father, that implication must be readily felt.

By Williams’ theory, Horace’s father was “freeborn”, ingenuus, his enslavement a temporary inconvenience of his early years. But on three occasions in Satire 1.6 Horace’s father is, to put it no stronger than this, associated with a lack of ingenuitas, freeborn status. The question is whether we can walk away from this poem seriously doubting that he was born unfree.

In the first case Horace credits Maecenas, his powerful friend and patron, with attaching no importance to quali sit quisque parente/ natus, dum ingenuus, “of what kind of parent anyone is born, so long as he be ingenuus” (7-8). Here I think the natural sense of ingenuus is “freeborn”, and while Williams suggests that Horace might in this clause be describing the father rather than “anyone”, that seems to me a stretch. In context it is Horace’s status that is the primary issue here, and Maecenas’ unconcern for the status of an individual’s father. There may be an implication that Horace’s father was not freeborn, unlike his son, but no more than that.

In the second passage, the most important for us, Horace is stating, and also accepting (somewhat unexpectedly), that people of low birth will not get far in political life: namque esto populus Laeuino mallet honorem/ quam Decio mandare nouo, censorque moueret/ Appius, ingenuo si non essem patre natus/ —uel merito, quoniam in propria non pelle quiessem, “For let’s grant that the people would rather entrust office to a Laevinus than to a Decius with no family background, and that Appius the censor would exclude me from the Senate if I weren’t born of a freeborn father—rightly perhaps, since I’d not have rested quietly in my own skin” (19-22).

To repeat, getting the nuance of satirical Latin is not straightforward, and this does not say outright that Horace’s father was not freeborn—that is stated as a remote condition, strictly speaking—but it is hard to explain why he raises this of all possible objections to himself (and in terms that so clearly recall the earlier statement of Maecenas’ point of view), not to mention the following acknowledgement in principle of the validity of the imagined sanction by the censor (an official responsible among other things for policing the qualifications of senators), unless Horace wants this understanding of himself and his paternity to be seriously entertained.

Finally, 89-92, which won’t clinch anything either: nil me paeniteat sanum patris huius, eoque/ non, ut magna dolo factum negat esse suo pars,/ quod non ingenuos habeat clarosque parentis,/ sic me defendam, “While of sound mind I would never regret having such a father, and the way the majority say it’s not their fault that they don’t have freeborn or distinguished parents isn’t how I would defend myself.” Here ingenuos might, I suppose, just entail “respectable”, if at any rate a reader could fail even toward the end of the poem to be thinking of more precise kinds of social differentiation. For a sense of the contemporary significance of being not just free but freeborn, the story of Augustus’ refusal to dine in the company of Menas/Menodorus, the turncoat freedman of Pompey, until he had been assertus in ingenuitatem, deemed legally (if not actually) freeborn, is suggestive (Suetonius, Life of Augustus 74, cf. Appian, BC 5.338, ἐλεύθερον εὐθὺς ἀπέφηνεν ἐξ ἀπελευθέρου).

Williams’ argument needs to be read to be properly assessed, and I can’t do it justice here: it’s also included in Kirk Freudenburg’s collection Oxford Readings in Classical Studies: Horace, Satires and Epistles (2009). All I can do is say that my own impression at the end of Satire 1.6 is that Horace has strongly implied that his father was born a slave. If this is correct, it is not, I think, something that a poet in Rome would state of his background unless it were substantially true.

“And so what?” you might say at this point.

I think to me it matters because it restores to Horace’s life story some of its dramatic quality. It reinstates major obstacles that Horace and his father had to overcome for the Horace we know and can write books about to emerge.

The turning point in Horace’s early life, described in this satire and in more oblique terms in his famous ode on the Bandusian Spring, was his father’s decision to secure for him an education at Rome, 200 miles from Venusia. If we conclude that Horace senior was a conventional Venusian who had simply experienced some misfortune (widely shared among his fellow townsmen) as a youngster, that still counts as a courageous decision, but it is vastly more so if a man born a slave refused to let his talented son be limited by his own accident of birth, in a culture that continued to set great store by such things.

Some of the most impressive figures from Greco-Roman antiquity are those whose exceptional ability had secured their escape from slavery: here is such a person, for instance. Horace’s remarkable rise to the very heights of Roman society—including his composition and performance of the hymn at the Secular Games in 17BC, perhaps the ideological acme of the Augustus’ principate—had as its catalyst the fatherly ambition that took him to Rome, and I’m loath to lose the sheer, splendid audacity of that decision by a man born enslaved without better reason than Williams seems to give us.

Alma mater

It can’t be claimed that Irene Frude’s memorial has a very pretty setting.

Off the south side of Little Clarendon St, just north of the centre of Oxford, is a covered entrance serving 25 Wellington Square. This building has graduate flats on the upper storeys and shops on the ground floor. The covered space is used for parking and for the rubbish bins.

On the eastern wall of this unappealing space, very easily missed, is a small cast-iron plaque, 27” x 7”, with the following text:

HOC IN LOCO IRENE FRVDE
COLLEGII KEBLENSIS ALVMNORVM BENIGNISSIMA ALTRIX
INGENTISSIMA IENTACVLA
XXXV FERME PER ANNOS COTIDIE SVPPEDITAVIT
CVIVS REI BENE MEMORES EIDEM ALVMNI
HOC MONVMENTVM FACIENDVM CVRAVERVNT.
A.D. IV KAL. NOV. MCMLXXVI

IN THIS PLACE IRENE FRUDE,
MOST KINDLY FOSTER-MOTHER OF THE STUDENTS OF KEBLE COLLEGE
PROVIDED HUGE BREAKFASTS FOR ALMOST 35 YEARS
IN FOND MEMORY OF WHICH THE SAME STUDENTS
HAD THIS MEMORIAL MADE
OCTOBER 29 A.D. 1976

A bin fire “around 2008” has caused the plaque to buckle slightly, and one side is discoloured. Vehicles are constantly parked close against the wall to which it’s attached, and it’s consequently very hard to find it when you’re first looking for it, and to get a decent photo when you do.

I’m indebted to Antigone Magazine for drawing my attention to something that I’ve ridden past unknowingly countless times. I am also more grateful than words can express to the Oxford University Archives, especially Anna Petre, for information (ongoing…) both about the inscription and the circumstances of its installation. It is described in R. H. Adams, Latin inscriptions in Oxford, a useful book vitiated by occasionally dodgy Latin, and on this excellent page which I nevertheless think gets a bit confused about Bedford House School and the site of Mrs Frude’s lodging house.

Let’s clear that up first.

Mrs Frude’s lodging house, which she ran from 1936 until 1969 and which was an example of a licensed lodging house for students, a phenomenon now long since extinct, was at 130 Walton St., just around the corner from Little Clarendon St. Some years before, 130 Walton St had briefly accommodated Bedford House School, run by John H Thorogood, before he had a purpose-built school built a little way up Walton St at 122, where it still stands.

While running the school at 122, Thorogood lived at 135 Walton St (he was there with his family in the 1881 and 1891 censuses, and his wife was still there in 1901; he died in 1902). He called 135 Walton St. Bedford House (the name is over the front door), and that is the house pictured on the webpage about Mrs Frude that I mentioned earlier. In the 1881 census it is clearly a “school house” for boarders: lots of “scholars”, schoolboys, are listed as living there alongside the family. But Thorogood no longer had anything to do with 130 Walton St., and there can be no glimpse of it on Google Maps because 130 Walton St. no longer exists.

Behind Little Clarendon St. and Walton St. lies Wellington Square, where the offices of Oxford University stand, and which was previously the location of the city workhouse. The University bought the site in 1865 (information gleaned from this interesting document), and it was developed on 99-year leases which fell in around the mid-1960s, at which point the University commissioned the architect Leslie Martin to replan the entire area. In the event, the University Offices and the graduate accommodation in 25 Wellington Sq. were all that was realised of Martin’s plan, but the latter building did for 130 Walton St.

Before the new buildings Walton St. (itself in this stretch the product of those 99-year leases) began south of Little Clarendon St. at No. 128, and 128-31 inclusive, four houses, were demolished to make room for the west end of 25 Wellington Sq. (and another space for bins and parking). A detail below of an aerial photo that predates the demolition, from the Oxfordshire County Council image collection, shows the corner of Walton St. and Little Clarendon St. The last four houses on the left are no longer there (compare with the image above), and third from the end of the row is 130.

The construction of 25 Wellington Sq. was supposed to run from the spring of 1973 to the middle of 1975, but there were the inevitable delays, and it was only finally completed in July 1976, receiving its first residents the following month. This last information is from Anna Petre in the University Archive, and she also found letters indicating that Mrs Frude moved out of 130 Walton St. and “into alternative accommodation … provided by the University” on November 8 1972, in advance of the demolition of the building in January 1973. The minutes of the Buildings Committee make reference in September 1974 to a letter from someone at Keble (as yet, at least, anonymous) requesting permission, along with other ex-lodgers of Mrs Frude, to install “on the wall of the building that will eventually replace her house” a plaque in honour of someone who had a “reputation … second to none among Oxford landladies”. By November it had been agreed that an inscription, in Latin, would be placed “in the undercroft through which those entering the building from Little Clarendon Street will pass”, and a provisional text had been proposed. The text given is at some remove from the final text, and the committee also decided to send the submitted text to the Corpus Christi Professor of Latin “for an opinion”, which means that we can safely credit Robin Nisbet, Professor from 1970 to 1992, for some, at least, of the elegance of the final product.

It was evidently at the earliest possible opportunity after the opening of the new building, October 1976, that the inscription was actually inaugurated. It sits some little distance from the site of Mrs Frude’s house, it’s fair to say: the satellite image above marks 130 with a blue arrow and the plaque with a red. A location for it near the entrance to the flats at their west end would have expressed hoc in loco more faithfully, but the Buildings Committee minutes imply that it was deemed preferable to place it inside the building, and where it might be seen by anyone using one of the entrances to the flat complex–and it might be so seen if there weren’t vehicles constantly parked up against it.

It deserves to be noticed, as it is as lovely as it is currently unloved, in content if not, after the fire, in physical appearance.

I like its Roman date, literally “four days before the Kalends of November”, with a wry A.D. just in case we’re misled. I like the play on the word alumnus, meaning a pupil as well as an old member of the college (this last a US usage but familiar enough in the 1970s). It hovers between these two senses in its two appearances, but also, in its basic sense of nursling, connects with altrix for Irene, a nurse and her foster-children—as Armand D’Angour suggests, the root in alo, “feed, nourish”, brings in the food dimension: she feeds, altrix, and they get fed, alumni. Meanwhile ingentissima ientacula is just superb, so funny yet so full of affection. A shabby old memorial in a shabby location, but such warmth.

Irene Frude died in April 1977 at the age of 78. I hope that gave her time to learn how much her alumni loved her.

Spot the memorial

On liking the unlikeable

I’ve been trying to find an analogy for my personal response to Horace’s political odes (spoiler: I like them), which has implications also for how I talk about them in the Very Short Introduction I’m writing. Horace’s Odes are all “political” in a broader sense, but here I mean the lyric poems that advance Augustan ideology in an overt fashion.

Contemporary scholarship tends to have a problem with these poems that it doesn’t have with other odes, and I find it odd. Sometimes the idea is that we in the twenty-first century have less sympathy with his political material, to which my response is that one doesn’t have to read his other poetry at all hard to find material or attitudes that are objectionable, and it doesn’t seem to me that poems promoting support for Augustus are much different in that respect. Sometimes the thought is more that Horace’s was too liberal a sensitivity to give real assent to the Augustan poetry he wrote, and just one objection to that is that every lyric poem composed by Horace is a carefully crafted piece of artifice, and not to be confused with any straightforward expression of his inner beliefs.

My feeling is that we can do two things with this poetry that are sometimes treated as incompatible. We can enjoy it, allowing ourselves to empathise enough with the poet and the poet’s circumstances to appreciate how effectively he promotes the cause, and to take pleasure from the reading experience; while at the same time we can achieve the detachment necessary to see accomplished political poetry for what it is, a sophisticated way of rendering people susceptible to a partisan ideology.

An example of what I’m talking about in Horace might be the passage in Odes 3.5, the Regulus Ode, where Horace condemns the miles Crassi, the “soldier of Crassus” taken prisoner by the Parthians in their crushing victory at Carrhae in 53 BC. Their greatest failure, in line with the core concern of this poem with the ethical guidance provided by the Roman past, is that they have forgotten their Romanness and “gone native” (5-12):

milesne Crassi coniuge barbara
turpis maritus uixit et hostium —
pro curia inuersique mores! —
consenuit socerorum in armis

sub rege Medo Marsus et Apulus
anciliorum et nominis et togae
oblitus aeternaeque Vestae,
incolumi Iove et urbe Roma?

“Has the soldier of Crassus lived his life a disgraceful husband to a barbarian wife, and have the Marsian and Apulian—shame on the Senate House and our topsy-turvy values!—grown old bearing arms for their fathers-in-law, their enemies, in the service of the Persian King, forgetful of the sacred shields and their name and the toga and everlasting Vesta while Jupiter and the city of Rome are yet unimpaired?”

It goes without saying, I hope, that I don’t endorse the chauvinistic nationalism of Horace’s “Roman Odes”, and furthermore I’m fascinated as an academic literary critic by the terms in which he expresses it, for instance the items that function as the Roman counterparts of motherhood and apple pie, the staples of a Roman identity that Horace suggests a true Roman could never forget: the sacred figure-of-eight shields borne by the dancing priests of Mars; the peculiar Roman styles of naming and dress; and Vesta, the goddess whose everlasting flame guaranteed Rome’s permanent existence.

Part and parcel of that analysis is seeing how brilliant the poetry is in which Horace’s xenophobic case is made. Just one detail out of many: how he exploits the expansive character of the third line of these alcaic stanzas to give aeternae special emphasis, the description of Vesta, “everlasting/eternal”, which clashes outrageously with oblitus, “forgetful” before it. What kind of people could forget Vesta who is always there, Horace asks us: only Romans who had fallen so far as no longer really to be Romans–and I feel the power of this. At some level I’m allowing myself to be manipulated by the poet, and understanding what he is doing by experiencing it.

Stated thus, it may still seem a paradoxical claim that I can be manipulated and still critique, but here comes my analogy. In the clip below Leonid Kharitonov, a Russian bass-baritone, with the Red Army Choir, performs the Song of the Volga Boatmen at a concert in the Tchaikovsky Hall, Moscow, in 1965. I see (and who couldn’t, since everyone is in military uniform) the ideological project, and (9 years after Hungary, 3 before Prague) I deplore it. (Current events exert their own influence, no doubt.) Furthermore it interests me intellectually how a folksong, because it talks about working men collaborating for the common good, and doing so along Russia’s greatest river, could be coopted by an outfit like the Red Army Choir to express a Soviet ideal.

That said, though, I find everything about this video frankly thrilling, the power of the singing, by Kharitonov and by the Red Army Choir, the superb arrangement by the Choir’s director, the camera work and the whole mise-en-scène of the film. I think what’s happening here is that I’m achieving an imaginative empathy with the Soviet elite in 1965 which does not preclude, indeed coexists with and positively informs, my critical distance and dispassionate analysis.

And I think I can do that with Horace, too.

Enjoy, in any case (but critically):

Doggone

I’m not at all sure this justifies a post. But at 100 blogs I disburdened myself of some familial stuff, and this happens to be no. 125.

Our dog Chester had been growing increasingly frail over the last few months. But his death on Tuesday, while related to that frailty, was sudden, unexpected in its manner, and traumatic in ways I shan’t elaborate. But he was a jack russell/chihuahua cross, a jack chi or jackhuahua if you prefer, rising 15, and facing pretty rapid decline.


I do buy the idea that dogs slot into families so naturally because we’ve been cohabiting, our two species, for tens of thousands of years. Having rather dreaded Chester’s arrival twelve or thirteen years ago—how much effort and inconvenience it could be, disruption in an already disrupted household, and a rescue dog to boot—I now feel a huge absence, and it’s not just the thousands of companionable miles, for years now without a lead, that we’ve clocked up in that time strolling round the neighbourhood. My wife understood that a dog would be a force for calm in a household in some need of it when our elder son was nine, and he has been, a shared focus of affection in our family life.


I know, of course, that our reasons for, and pleasure in, those walks were mutually incomprehensible, but that I guess is how symbiosis works. Similarly, I’ve no understanding why every day without fail, immediately after his dinner, Chester would steal one of my socks and “bury” it somewhere around the house.

No understanding at all, but I miss it.

Horace, top dog

As I ponder putting pen to paper for the first time in my Horace: A Very Short Introduction, it’s proving as daunting a challenge as I anticipated. Horace is both technically meticulous and hugely versatile, and trying to capture his essence in 100 pages is not straightforward. But I think Horace at least, the great miniaturist, would approve of the attempt.

In his Odes, poems composed within the tiny structures represented by his lyric stanzas, brevity is the key. Horace has various strategies to achieve it, but one of them is an astonishing precision in word selection. An ancient assessment by the critic Quintilian (10.1.96) identifies Horace’s inventiveness in figures of speech and felicitous boldness in word choice (a paraphrase of uarius figuris et uerbis felicissime audax) as a characteristic quality of his lyric poetry, and what follows is a brief illustration: a moment in the Odes where a word chosen with pin-point precision generates a remarkable richness of imagery from a minimum of text. This is a turn of phrase that I’ve loved for a long time, but I’d missed the full subtlety of it until a recent rereading of the Odes—and my hunch, I should add, found corroboration in Nisbet & Rudd.

Odes 3.29 is often (and, as it happens, rightly) considered Horace’s lyric masterpiece, the penultimate poem of his first collection of lyric poems, an address to his patron Maecenas which restates in powerful and memorable terms some core themes of his lyric.

As he rounds off this glorious poem, Horace explains what to do if Fortune turns against you, offering himself as a model for Maecenas and the rest of us (3.29.53-6):

laudo manentem; si celeris quatit
pinnas, resigno quae dedit et mea
virtute me involvo probamque
pauperiem sine dote quaero.

David West’s translation: I praise [Fortune] while she stays. If she shakes out/ her swift wings, I return what she gave, wrap myself/ in my virtue and look for honest Poverty,/ asking no dowry.

Even this one tiny stanza is fraught with implication. Fortune is as flighty as a winged thing; resigno, which is what Horace does with all Fortune’s gifts, makes of everything he has received from her just a temporary loan that he has always had to pay back; while quaero presents his calm acceptance of poverty as courting a potential wife, but Poverty, while a virtuous lady, will not bring any financial advantage with her.

But it’s the image in the middle I’m concerned with here, et mea/ uirtute me inuoluo, “and I wrap myself in the virtue that is my personal possession” (mea carries a lot of weight here: the virtue is really his, what he got from Fortune merely borrowed). Virtue is transformed by this metaphor into a cloak that protects the poet against the inclement conditions once Fortune has departed—and even left there, it’s a wonderfully rich effect achieved with impressive economy. For me, too, the repetition mea … me and the way the vowel of me blends with the initial vowel of inuoluo give an impression of things tightly wrapped, but I am known to overread.

But let’s press inuoluo itself a bit harder. Who wraps themselves up in cloaks in Greco-Roman antiquity?

An identifying feature of a Cynic, an illustration of the extreme self-denial to which adherents of this philosophical tradition subjected themselves, was the simple kit, the sum of their possessions, that they carried around with them: a staff, a leather pouch, and a rough cloak known as a τρίβων/tribōn (Arrian, Epict. diss. 3.22.10). Antisthenes, often regarded in antiquity as the founder of the school, “was the first, according to Diocles, to wrap his cloak twice around himself (πρῶτος ἐδίπλωσε τὸν τρίβωνα) and be content with that one garment” (Diog. Laert. 6.13); according to others it was Diogenes, the most famous of the Cynics and a rival for the role of founder, who first doubled up his τρίβων (Diog. Laert. 6.22). Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, incidentally, is just the best text: Diogenes was called “the Dog”, Κύων; by the poet Cercidas, the οὐράνιος κύων, the heavenly dog Sirius (Diog. Laert. 6.77; Cercidas fr. 54 Livrea).* But Antisthenes was “the Absolute Dog”, ʽΑπλοκύων (Diog. Laert. 6.13).

Ἁπλοκύων

Dogs aside, the key idea here is that the τρίβων, the rough-and-ready outer garment which was also all in the way of clothing that the Cynics allowed themselves, was a visible expression of their ascetic philosophical principles: Cynics regarded virtue as alone sufficient for a flourishing existence (eudaimonia), and exactly like Horace in this stanza scorned such superficial human comforts as fickle Fortune might bestow.

Our poet, wrapping himself tightly in the virtue that is all that remains to him, but also everything that he needs, assumes the character of a Cynic preacher, the last word in austere self-sufficiency. But what we have to remind ourselves of, and what poses me a problem in my very short introduction, is that if, as we read, we find ourselves thinking of bitingly cold weather, cloaks wrapped tight, and Cynic mendicants, it’s essentially with the single word inuoluo that Horace has conjured up all these associations.

And there are another 70,000 or so meticulously chosen Horatian words where that came from.

Think about it…

*J. L. López Cruces, “A heavenly son of Zeus (Diog. Laert. 6.76 = Cercidas, fr. 54 Livrea)”, CQ 68 (2018), 91-6.

Recessional

Scipio Aemilianus and Polybius at the fall of Carthage

One reason I blog so often about Virgil is my habit, in the middle of the university lectures on the Aeneid that I’ve been giving for years, of suddenly seeing things more clearly. This happened a couple of weeks ago, when I understood a moment in Aeneid 1 as I talked about it better than I ever have before. I then did most of the research for this blog sitting for fifteen minutes after a Covid booster, and I dunno, but maybe a blog about how everything is bound sooner or later to fail, as well as about bursting into tears at inappropriate moments, speaks a little to our current circumstances.

The moment in question is when Aeneas, accompanied by Achates, sets eyes for the first time upon Carthage (1.418-38):

Carthage in the first book of the Aeneid is presented by Virgil to his Roman readers as a place both alien and deeply (and because it’s Carthage, Rome’s historical bête noire, disconcertingly) familiar. I wrote here about passing hints of the Carthaginians’ most notorious religious practices within Virgil’s otherwise surprisingly appealing account of Carthage and its exemplary leader, Dido. In this passage we could point to the word magalia, “huts”, in the fourth line, a Punic term that defines the space as irrevocably foreign; but against that, the city being constructed before Aeneas’ eyes has theatres with columns, and in line 426 (suspected by some scholars, but present in all the manuscripts) even iura, “laws”, magistrates and a senate, more Roman words and concepts than which it would be hard to find.

Aeneas reacts to this scene with a kind of rueful recognition: the Carthaginians are realising the precise thing that he passionately wants but is constantly prevented from achieving, a new city for his Trojan followers. The readers of the Aeneid have also been promised that new city, Rome, from the very beginning of this national epic, and they are feeling pretty disorientated just four hundred lines into the poem when there is indeed a city being founded, but it’s Rome’s nemesis, Carthage.

This effect was all the sharper for the first Roman readers of the Aeneid, or so I tell the students in my lectures. Rome in the early Augustan period was a building site: Chapter 29 of Suetonius’ life of Augustus lists everything built by Augustus, or by other senior Romans with his encouragement, while 19-21 of the Res Gestae gives a longer list of his own construction projects. Augustus’ building programme, whereby he famously took a city of mud brick and left it made of marble (Suet., Aug. 28.3), was a way of giving concrete form to his claim to be refounding Rome: Suetonius again (7.2) records the perception of Augustus as a conditor urbis, a founder of Rome, by virtue of restoring harmony after decades in which Romans had fought fellow Romans. My point in the lecture is that if the scene of Carthage under construction evoked anything for contemporary Romans it was their own city.

So Aeneas is looking at Carthage and thinking of Rome, but Virgil ensures that his readers are doing the same, and I just say again that we can’t overstate how bold it is of the poet to present Carthage, of all places, to his Roman readership early in his poem as not only not demonically alien but actually familiar enough to provoke thoughts of home.

Another thing we can say about the scene of Aeneas contemplating the beginnings of Carthage is that I don’t think Romans could look at Carthage being founded and fail to think of Carthage getting destroyed. The name “Carthage” actually means “New City”, but the latter end of Carthage’s history, its capture and destruction in 146 BC, was an iconic moment in Roman history, the final defeat of their most daunting enemy. Something the historical sources and the archaeology agree on is how comprehensively the city of Carthage was made to disappear by its vengeful conquerors. The sources talk of a fire that lasted seventeen days, unrestricted looting by Roman troops, the city walls reduced to dust, all but the most senior men sold into slavery, and a ritual obliteration as important as the physical: the site was cursed, set aside for the gods by consecratio: no human was to live there again. The action of ploughing over the site mentioned by Modestinus (Digest of Justinian 7.4.21) reversed the ploughing that established the sacred boundary of the city at foundation, hinted at by Virgil at line 425. C. Marius, at a low ebb after defeat by Sulla, pondered his humiliation appropriately seated amid the ruins of the fallen city (Plutarch, Marius 40.4; Lucan 2.85-93).

The only thing the Romans didn’t do was sow the ground of Carthage with salt, for that is a factoid with no basis in the ancient sources: the ancient evidence for the destruction is collected by Ridley in the process of scotching that story, and supplemented in a more open-minded way by Purcell, and both citations are at the bottom.

Blyth after Mortimer, Caius Marius on the Ruins of Carthage

Archaeological work at Carthage tells a similarly terrifying story. In Virgil’s day, after false starts by Gaius Gracchus and then Julius Caesar, Augustus established a colony on the site of Carthage, the beginnings of a very successful future city. This looks at first glance like a contradiction of the consecratio in 146 BC, but archaeological discoveries suggest the efforts that were made to honour that original decision that Carthage was not in any way to be refounded. On the Byrsa, the citadel of the Punic city, Serge Lancel describes a “gigantic levelling” by Roman engineers in preparation for the new colony, “a resection that would seem to us almost unimaginable without the aid of our powerful public works machines.” The top of the Byrsa hill was effectively sliced off, 100,000 cubic metres of earth removed, and the character of the space utterly transformed, an astonishingly thorough intervention into the physical landscape of Carthage that clearly had the aim of “effacing any surviving trace of the past.” Deleta est Carthago.

This brings me to my final thought about Virgil’s scene, which is in fact something suggested to me a few years ago by Denis Feeney (it was Sandro Barchiesi who alerted me to the remarkable archaeology of the Byrsa, I should also say). Denis told me that he was pretty certain we were supposed to see, when Aeneas stands on the hill and contemplates Carthage rising, a strong hint of a famous anecdote from the destruction of Carthage in 146 BC involving the triumphant Roman commander Scipio Aemilianus. The story originates with Polybius, who was with Scipio Aemilianus at the time, but it is recorded by Diodorus and Appian (Diodorus 32.24, Pun. 132 = Polybius 38.22):

“When Carthage had been put to the torch and the flames were doing their awful work of devastation throughout the whole city, Scipio wept unabashedly. Asked by Polybius, his mentor, why he was thus affected, he said: ‘Because I am reflecting on the fickleness of Fortune. Some day, perhaps, the time will come when a similar fate shall overtake Rome.’ And he cited these lines from the poet, Homer: ‘The day will come when sacred Ilium shall perish,/ with Priam and his people.'”

The Homeric quotation is from Hector’s moving words to his wife Andromache in Iliad 6. Trojan Aeneas gazes at Carthage as it is being founded and is put in mind of his own hoped-for foundation, Rome; Scipio witnesses the fall of Carthage and thinks of Rome and the sack of Troy; and the readers of the Aeneid watch as their Trojan founder looks upon Carthage, and find themselves pondering their own city Rome at the end of the first century BC, subject to the ineluctable processes of construction and destruction, as they well knew, just like Troy and Carthage before it.

A insensitively named street in modern Carthage, photo by Vic Baines.

* * *

R.T. Ridley, “To be taken with a pinch of salt: the destruction of Carthage”, Classical Philology 81 (1986), 140-46;

N. Purcell, “On the sacking of Corinth and Carthage”, in D. Innes, H. Hines, and C. Pelling (eds.), Ethics and Rhetoric: Classical Essays for Donald Russell on his 75th Birthday (Oxford, 1995), 133-48;

J. Davidson, “Domesticating Dido”, in M. Burden (ed.), A woman scorn’d: responses to the Dido myth (London, 1998), 65-88;

S. Lancel, La colline de Byrsa à l’époque punique (Paris, 1983), 7-8.

Hercules on the edge

Some thoughts about the structure immediately above, thoughts that I’ve needed to have, then park while I crack on with other, more urgent things.

You are looking at the Tropaeum Alpium, Trophy of the Alps, or Tropaeum Augusti, Trophy of Augustus, in La Turbie (which takes its name from it), a town on a rise above Monaco in the South of France. However we choose to call it, this monument is certainly concerned with both the Alps and the emperor Augustus. What interests me about it, though, is that it is also concerned, albeit more obliquely, with the hero Hercules, on whom one day I shall assuredly write A BOOK.

Unless I don’t.

The first thing to appreciate about the Tropaeum Alpium is that, while it was dedicated by the Senate and People of Rome in 7/6BC, what you you see in La Turbie today is really a confection dating back just a century. The Middle Ages were not kind to the monument (one story, if anyone reads Provençal, tells how St Honoratus miraculously destroyed it, the fortress of a giant named Apollo, but the reality wasn’t much less dramatic). Shortly before the First World War, and then again from 1929 to 1934, two architects, Jean Camille and Jules Formigé, father and son, undertook a very creative reconstruction, and the result is a landmark which probably tells us as much about French culture in the early decades of the Twentieth Century as it does about Augustus.

There is nevertheless a lot we know about the Trophy, not least the inscription it bore, which was recorded by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History (3.136-7) and explained that the monument marked the conquest of the Alps by the emperor Augustus a mari supero ad inferum, from the higher to the lower sea, i.e. from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian Sea. We’ll come back to Pliny, because his record of the Tropaeum is interestingly located within his own text. But what I’m most concerned with is the meaningful association established by Sophie Binninger (all citations are at the bottom) between this monument celebrating Augustus on the heights above Monaco and the hero/god Hercules — who was so important to Monaco that he seems to have given his name to the place.

We know that the port of Monaco, and apparently the heights above it, were perceived to have a special connection to Hercules. Strabo, for instance, informs us that “the harbour of Monoikos is a mooring-place for only a few, small ships, with a temple of Herakles ‘Monoikos’, as he is known” (4.6.3), while other sources give emphasis to the neighbouring heights. If there was a specific cult site, at any rate, we don’t know where it was. But the connection was established enough for the Hercules worshipped here, under that moody epithet Monoikos (“solitary; who lives alone”), to give the location a name today very familiar to us.

It is on this basis that Binninger makes the case, unanswerable it seems to me, that the placement of the monument honouring Augustus is designed to imply an assimilation with Hercules, and she suggests that treating Augustus as a Herculean figure suggests military prowess, divinity present or future, and a civilizing power closely related to the establishment of roads and communication. Ammianus Marcellinus (15.10.9) describes Hercules as the builder of the first road along the coast en route to dealing with the three-bodied giant Geryon, and adds that he also “consecrated the harbour and citadel of Monoecus to his own everlasting memory”. (The context for Hercules’ presence in the western Mediterranean, whether in Rome, Tangier or Monaco, is generally his mission to kill Geryon in Spain and drive Geryon’s superlative herd of cattle back to Greece.) Augustus’ Tropaeum seems to have been coordinated with the Via Julia Augusta, the road from Italy to Gaul recently constructed or renovated by Augustus.

But I think we can push the Herculean associations of the Tropaeum Alpium a bit further, and particularly that last idea of communication. Hercules was all about pathways and access, certainly, but by extension he promoted the meeting and mingling of peoples. Within Italy Hercules’ close association with the cattle trade, and the drove roads by which cattle were herded around the peninsula, had made him the agent of intermingling and unification described by Dionysius, who imagines a rationalised Hercules as the greatest general of his day, leading a great army with which, among other things, “he mingled barbarians with Greeks, and inhabitants of the inland with dwellers on the sea coast, groups which hitherto had been distrustful and unsocial in their dealings with each other” (Rom. Ant. 1.41.1).

Meanwhile, the story was told around the Mediterranean and beyond of peoples descended from Hercules and a local woman: see here on Rome, Herodotus 4.9-10 on the Scythians, and Plutarch, Sertorius 9.3-5 on the people of Tangier. This recurrent myth clearly encoded the establishment of reciprocal relations between Greek colonisers and native peoples, albeit by implication on Greek terms. In ancient France we find stories, collected by Jane Lightfoot in her edition of Parthenius, that make Hercules the ancestor of the Celts. As Parthenius tells it, when Hercules was driving the cattle of Geryon back to Argos, he came to the court of king Bretannos in the country of the Celts. The inevitable liaison with Bretannos’ daughter Keltine resulted in the birth of Keltos, ancestor of the Celts.

Hercules’ capacity to bring peoples together is one of his most remarkable characteristics, and at first sight hard to square with this club-wielding epitome of male violence. It no doubt has a lot to do with the ubiquity of muscular civilising gods across peoples. The Greeks encountered the Carthaginian Melqart and saw Heracles, and vice versa. Another illustration is the worship of Hercules Magusanus by the Batavians of what is now the Netherlands, as explained by Nico Roymans: the syncretism of a local and a Roman god, Magusanus and Hercules, facilitating the Batavians’ assimilation within the Roman Empire, resulting inter alia in one more Lysippan Hercules to join all the others.

Another illustration again is Virgil’s Aeneid, where Hercules the communis deus, “god who is common to all” (8.275), appears on both sides of the conflict between Aeneas’ forces and Turnus’ forces, as comrade or ancestor, in the second half of the poem, and seems to promise a unity in Italy when all the fighting’s done. In Virgil the tension between that peaceful outcome and the violence Hercules displays is quite deliberately drawn out, I think. (I investigated some of these Herculean associations as they were exploited by Horace in the article cited at the bottom.)

Well, if the monument to Augustus at La Turbie does indeed by its position provoke thoughts of Hercules, that position (which was clearly chosen very, very carefully) answers in various suggestive ways to these aspects of the hero. Monaco, as Binninger explains, can be seen as the end of the Alps, illustrating the claim of the inscription that the mountains had been pacified from sea to sea. But we are also here on a frontier, Hercules’ natural space: Binninger cites a medieval gloss on the Antonine Itinerary which remarks of this location usque hic Italia, hinc Gallia, “Thus far Italy; henceforth Gaul”. At Monaco Hercules presided over the meeting of Italians and Gauls as well as Greeks and Celts.

Photo by Berthold Werner: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:La_Turbie_BW_1.JPG#mw-jump-to-license

But I think the most interesting implication of all arises from the text of Pliny the Elder which preserves the inscription that graced the Trophy, and indeed allowed the structure at La Turbie to be identified as the Tropaeum Alpium. Binninger again points out that Pliny’s reference to the Tropaeum comes at the end of a long account of Italy (3.38-138), just before his resounding conclusion, “This is Italy, sacred to the gods, these its races, these its people’s towns…” Pliny’s account is structured by Augustus’ organisation of Rome and Italy into regiones, a reform which may have been introduced around the time of the Trophy’s dedication. In other words, Pliny’s account of Italy, and its climax with the Tropaeum Alpium, may well follow an Augustan logic. Binninger talks of the idea in Pliny that the Alps (and the Trophy) “round off” Italy, and again I am put in mind of Hercules.

In the Aeneid, or at least in my reading of the poem, Hercules represents a kind of summation of Italy. All in Italy worship him, and in him, symbolically, is found unity between Italians, even as they fight each other. The paradox, which is also present to some degree at La Turbie, is that Hercules/Augustus stands for violent conquest, and yet also for equality and collaboration. Just maybe, then, there is an Augustan pattern of thought here, centred upon the mythical figure of Hercules and shared between Virgil’s epic and this monument on the heights above Monaco.

* * *

S. Binninger, “Le Tropaeum Alpium et l’Héraclès Monoikos. Mémoire et célébration de la victoire dans la propagande augustéenne à la Turbie”, in M. Navarro Caballero and J.-M. Roddaz (eds.), La Transmission de l’idéologie impériale dans les provinces de l’Occident romain (Pessac, 2006), 179-203;

Le trophée d’Auguste à La Turbie (Paris, 2009);

E. Bispham, “The Regiones of Italy: between Republic and Principate”, in M. Aberson, M.C. Biella, M. Di Fazio & M. Wullschleger (eds.), Nos sumus Romani qui fuimus ante… Memory of ancient Italy (Bern, 2020), 23-51;

H. Cornwell, “The King Who Would Be Prefect: Authority and Identity in the Cottian Alps”, Journal of Roman Studies 105 (2015), 41-72;

J. Lightfoot, Parthenius of Nicaea: the Extant Works, Edited with Introduction and Commentary (Oxford, 1999);

I. Malkin, Myth and Territory in the Spartan Mediterranean (Cambridge, 1994);

Ll. Morgan, “A Yoke Connecting Baskets: Odes 3.14, Hercules, and Italian Unity”, Classical Quarterly 55 (2005), 190-203;

N. Roymans, Ethnic Identity and Imperial Power: the Batavians in the Early Roman Empire (Amsterdam, 2004), 235-50.

Edict XII, lost & found

A few final words on the N-W Frontier, the upshot of finishing a co-written book on a late nineteenth-century archaeological enthusiast, Harold Deane, and then writing a review of a book on an earlier nineteenth-century archaeological enthusiast, Charles Masson, shortly afterwards. Both men were British and both found themselves in a place named Shahbazgarhi (شھباز گڑھی), but Masson was there in 1838, and Deane in 1888; and Deane, as we shall see, was perhaps responsible for the more illuminating discovery.

What both of them were doing at Shabazgarhi was studying an ancient inscribed text. Another difference between them, fifty years apart, was that Deane knew he was looking at the words of the great Indian emperor Ashoka.

With Luca Olivieri I’ve been editing over the last couple of years the manuscript draft of Harold Deane’s influential article on the archaeology of Swat and Peshawar, “Note on Udyana and Gandhara” (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1896). Deane was by 1896 a British Political Officer based at Malakand in Swat, and it was in the garrison at Malakand that Prof. Olivieri found the early draft of his “Note”.

One of the valuable things about setting this draft against Deane’s finished version in the Journal is the access it gives us to the more personal material that was lost as it was refined into an academic article. One such moment, in this instance crossed out in the editing process by Deane himself, traces the fascination for archaeology that he had developed during a series of postings in the vicinity of Peshawar: “I add here a few notes I have made from time to time regarding the adjoining Province of Gandhara [“the British District of Peshawar” added above] in which I was first led to taking an interest by discovering the 12th Edict missing from the large Asoka-inscription at Shahbaz Garha.”

We’ll come back to Deane, but let’s start with Charles Masson, whose visit to Shahbazgarhi came at an important juncture in his complicated and remarkable life. A deserter from the army of the East India Company, Masson had settled in Kabul, safely beyond British jurisdiction, and from there investigated Buddhist sites and the plain of Begram, where the huge collection of coins he gathered allowed him to identify it as the location of the city of Alexandria ad Caucasum, which as Kapisa, the coin record told him, survived for well over a thousand years after Alexander. Masson’s archaeological activities were interrupted by events preceding the British invasion of Afghanistan in 1839. He left Afghanistan in 1838 and went back to what he was most comfortable doing, discovering antiquities:

“Released from the thraldom in which I had been kept since 1835, I then made an excursion to Shah Baz Ghari in the Yusef Zai districts, to recover some Bactro-pali inscriptions on a rock there, and was successful, returning with both copies and impressions on calico.” (Narrative Of Various Journeys In Balochistan, Afghanistan, the Panjab and Kalat (1842-4), Vol. 3, 493)

A few years later, in 1846 in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Masson gave a fuller account of his “excursion from Pesháwer to Sháh Báz Ghari” in October 1838. He indicates that he is following the guidance of Claude-Auguste Court, a Napoleonic veteran who was in the service of Ranjit Singh, Maharajah of the Punjab, and whose description of the environs of Peshawar (with the map at the top that Masson may well have been using) had been published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal for 1836, including a reference (pp. 481-2, and pl. XXVIII) to this inscription.

Masson traces his route from Peshawar across what is now the city of Mardan, his arrival in Shahbazgarhi and the welcome he received from the senior Malik of the village. (Masson’s account acknowledges quite well the help he received from locals in Peshawar and along the way.) He then describes his efforts to record the inscription, written on both sides of a rock, both by copying the text by hand and by coating it with ink and then catching as much of the engraved text as he could imprinted in reverse on calico—around 50 yards of it in total. This material he gifted to the Royal Asiatic Society on his return to Britain in 1842.

All Masson really knew about the inscription was that it was big and its script was the same as that on coins he had found in Afghanistan, some of which bore the script, now known as Kharosthi, on one side and Greek on the other. But from the copies that he had taken others, E. Norris and J. Dowson in this same issue of the journal (calling it the Kapur-di-Ghiri inscription), were able to decipher enough of the text to recognise that the inscription at Shahbazgarhi was substantially the same, although written in a different script and with some slight linguistic differences, as two other inscriptions at Girnar in Gujarat, western India, and Dhauli in Odisha (Orissa), eastern India, one side of which is beautifully carved into the shape of the front end of a royal elephant.

It was left to H.H. Wilson (in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 12 (1850), 153-251), a scholar closely associated with Masson and Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford, to collate all three inscriptions at Girnar, Dhauli and Shabazgarhi, and translate the Shahbazgarhi text alongside the others. Wilson confirmed the essential similarity between them, but also highlighted one peculiarity: the text was divided into fourteen sections, all of them represented at Girnar, but Shahbazgarhi lacked the twelfth.

The inscriptions at Dhauli, Girnar and Shahbazgarhi have these days been joined by quite a few more, and they are now identified as copies of decrees issued by the Emperor Ashoka in the third century BC. The subset of a larger corpus of Ashokan inscriptions to which they belong is referred to as Ashoka’s Major Rock Edicts, and their location when plotted is clearly significant: as a group they ring the territory controlled by Ashoka’s Mauryan Empire, marking its boundaries: at Kandahar they were written in Greek.

Yet the Twelfth Edict of Ashoka, as I’ve mentioned, was missing from the inscription recorded by Charles Masson at Shahbazgarhi. Harold Deane’s contribution half a century later was to find it, on a separate rock fifty yards away from the main inscription. But the difficulty of finding Edict XII at Shahbazgarhi tells us something quite interesting about it. The same Twelfth Edict seems to be given special status on another inscription on the N.-W. Frontier at Mansehra, a few miles from Abbotabad. As at Shahbazgarhi the Mansehra Edict XII is inscribed separately, and in both places it is more carefully engraved than the other edicts, and in larger letters (É. Senart, Journal Asiatique 11, 1888, pp. 516-7). In other collections of the Edicts, at Girnar and at Khalsi in the hills near Mussoorie, Edict XII just quietly takes its place in the sequence I to XIV; while at others again, at Dhauli and Jaugada (also in Odisha), the Twelfth Edict doesn’t feature at all.

The natural conclusion is that Edict XII was particularly pertinent to the part of Ashoka’s empire represented by Shahbazgarhi and Mansehra. It is known as the Toleration Edict, and essentially enjoins mutual respect between religions. Here is an excerpt from Amulyachandra Sen’s translation in Asoka’s Edicts (Calcutta 1956):

“Whoever praises his own sect or blames other sects, all (that is done) out of devotion to one’s own sect (with this thought), viz. ‘That we may glorify our own sect’. But by doing so, one injures one’s own sect all the more severely.

Therefore it is intercommunion that is commendable, that is to say, that (people) should listen to and respect the doctrines of one another.”

It’s easy enough to suppose that this frontier region in the North-West supported an unusual variety of religious traditions, and that Ashoka considered Edict XII especially important for his subjects in this location to hear.

The two Britons I’ve been concentrating on in this blog are in many ways very different figures. Masson was at times a strident critic of British imperial activity, while Deane ended up as the first Chief Commissioner of the newly constituted North-West Frontier Province (NWFP; now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). One of the most important observations in our work on Deane is how inseparable his interest in the history of this area was from the information gathering that was of the essence of his role as a Political Officer on the frontier, maintaining colonial control over territory in as discreet a manner as possible.

Between them, nevertheless, Masson and Deane made an important historical document available to the less adventurous scholars who could read it, while in Deane’s case a piece was added to the puzzle that shed light vividly on the character of the N-W frontier of Ashoka’s empire more than two millennia ago.

There’s a nice account of a recent trip to Shahbazgarhi here. I meanwhile have a new pipedream, visiting all of Ashoka’s Major Rock Edicts across India and Pakistan.

New old light on Charles Masson

Charles Masson’s huge importance as a pioneer of archaeological and pre-modern historical research in Afghanistan, as well as a witness of events leading to war in the 1830s, is increasingly recognised. His significance essentially rests on the six years he spent based in Kabul, 1832-38, and the work he undertook during that time to investigate Buddhist sites, especially stupas, around Kabul and Jelalabad; and also, by collecting coins and other artefacts from the plain of Begram, site of Alexandria ad Caucasum, later known as Kapisa, to trace the perhaps 1,500-year history of that city after Alexander’s foundation in 329 BC.

My own encounters with Masson have been while writing a book about Bamiyan (he visited the valley in the winter of 1832), co-writing another book about Harold Deane, a Political Officer on the N.-W. Frontier whose archaeological discoveries on at least one occasion followed in Masson’s tracks, and most recently reviewing this book on Masson. Entirely superficial, in other words.

Meanwhile the serious work on Charles Masson has been undertaken by the British Museum Masson Project led by Dr Liz Errington. A series of superb publications from that project, all open access, are available here, here, and (coming shortly) here. The first of those I’ll be referring to quite a lot in what follows, specifically Dr Errington’s biography of Masson at pp. 3-14.

But for such a key figure, there are parts of his life, his early years especially, that have remained surprisingly obscure. One major reason for this is that Masson spent a large part of his life pretending not to be himself. He was baptised James Lewis, in London on February 16, 1800, and in 1821 enlisted in the Bengal Artillery. But then in 1827 he deserted from his regiment and escaped British jurisdiction, concealing his identity under his assumed name Masson. Old habits die hard, though, and even in the three-volume memoir that he published in 1842, by which time everyone and their pet cat knew exactly who he was, he consistently shifts the dates of events one year back. “In the autumn of 1826…” begins his account of his travels after his desertion in 1827.

Copies of the three volumes of Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan and the Panjab (1842) plus his concluding volume, Narrative of a Journey to Kalat. Including an Account of the Insurrection at that Place in 1840, and a Memoir on Eastern Balochistan (1843), are pictured at the top.

But these, as we shall see, are no ordinary copies.

They were purchased by the American scholar Gregory Possehl, an expert on the Indus Valley Civilisation who had developed an interest in Masson and published on him. I’m not sure that this is where his interest originated, but he describes in his article how he failed in the 1970s to find a graffito by Masson discovered by French archaeologists in a cave at Bamiyan in the 1930s (“If any fool this high samootch explore,/ Know Charles Masson has been here before”: J. Hackin, Nouvelles recherches archéologiques à Bāmiyān III, 1933, p. 2; Masson was a committed mediocre poet), but then apparently found another one. (When Masson had visited Bamiyan, incidentally, he had found graffiti by Moorcroft, Trebeck and Guthrie, three unfortunate predecessors).

In any case, what Prof. Possehl found when he opened the first volume, pasted inside, was a short, handwritten account of Masson’s life, clearly derived from direct communication with Masson, written by William Joseph Eastwick.

Eastwick had been based in the independent state of Sind, Assistant to the Resident in Sind, Masson’s important ally Sir Henry Pottinger. When Pottinger took leave from February 1839, Eastwick became Acting Resident. Eastwick’s note mentions encounters with Masson “on the Indus” in 1839 and 1840, and Masson’s stay with him at Hyderabad. After leaving Kabul Masson spent over a year in Sind, apparently moving between Karachi, Tatta and Hyderabad, the capital of Sind, writing up his memoirs (Errington pp. 3, 7 and 13). Norris in The First Afghan War (1967), p. 252-3 cites the account of the war by Henry Marion Durand (the footnote) to illustrate that “Charles Masson was finding a receptive audience for his slanderous stories [about Alexander Burnes, so probably not so slanderous] among Tory officers on the banks of the Indus in January and February 1839.” And Errington on p. 7 cites another glimpse of Masson in Karachi, not a happy time for him, from Dalrymple, Return of a King (2013), p. 471.

When Pottinger left India entirely in early 1840, he took Masson’s writings with him to show to publishers, and in April 1840 Masson set off back toward Afghanistan to continue his research. Caught up in a rebellion in Qalat (the invasion of Afghanistan was a cause of widespread instability), Masson suffered imprisonment in Qalat and then by the British in Quetta, under suspicion of collaboration in Qalat, experiences to which Eastwick also alludes.

On the evidence of this document, Eastwick knows Masson well. By the time he writes it (between February 16 1842 and February 15 1843 assuming Masson’s age is given correctly at the start) Eastwick has retired from India and returned to Britain: he later became a Director of the East India Company. Masson, who returned to Britain in March 1842, was most probably in London, too, and Eastwick’s document looks like some kind of letter of support solicited by Masson.

The cramped writing after the bracket on the first page is particularly intriguing. Possibly Eastwick’s handwriting, but certainly not Masson’s, it nevertheless repeats a complaint that Masson makes in similar terms in an annotation to his copy of the work in question here, the Oxford Professor H.H. Wilson’s Ariana Antiqua, which had showcased many of Masson’s finds for the first time: the annotation can be read on p. 308 and fig. 137 of this, and there are many more expressing the same intense feelings of injustice on Masson’s part as we find recorded in Eastwick’s note.

[30.10.2021: Edmund Richardson points out to me that Eastwick’s account reflects the false chronology adopted by Masson in Narrative, placing Masson’s first, brief visit to Kabul in 1827 rather than 1828, when it had really occurred.]

Prof. Possehl never published Eastwick’s account, and on his death his library was put up for auction: you can read the catalogue here; he had a fine collection of books! The information that reached the Masson Project was that his library had been purchased by a university in China, the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, but efforts by the Masson Project to make contact and confirm that Masson’s memoir (and the Eastwick note) were there proved unsuccessful.

This is where having a brilliant former student and enthusiastic historian based in China, James Norman, came in useful, especially when he was able to put me in contact with Dr Chen Li’er of the Central Academy, who in turn very kindly, along with colleagues in the library, located the Masson volumes, and photographed for me the Eastwick note. I am hugely grateful to both Dr Chen and James. A vague proposal mid-afternoon eventuated in a photograph sent to my inbox before I woke up the next morning.

We might choose to think of this as Eastwick’s biography of Masson simply mimicking what its subject had done, wandering quietly off radar for a spell, but in a safe and happy place.

* * *

What follows is Dr Chen’s photograph of the note and my transcription. Dr Chen’s photo is sharp and legible; I hope my transcription is legible too, but presenting a transcription on a blog at all satisfactorily seems beyond me, and if it defeats you too you can find a pdf here. All of it, anyway, is offered as my gift to Liz Errington for the help she has repeatedly given me in my amateurish noodlings around this period, and I add the observation that Liz has managed, without sight of Eastwick’s note before now, to glean from Prof Possehl’s accounts of it all the noteworthy biographical details that it contains: see her biography (at pp. 3-14 of this) for proof. Especially acute are Dr Errington’s thoughts on how the evidence of his schooling at Walthamstow might elucidate a later encounter, quite possibly with an old schoolmate, in Afghanistan; and how working for Durant & Co. could explain Masson’s fluency in French. Meanwhile the “misunderstanding with his Father” and how “irksome to his feelings” Masson found military service are details that throw a little light at least on two major crises in Masson’s life, his enlistment and his desertion.

What remains in Eastwick’s note is a vivid pen sketch of a fascinating personality–courageous, frank to a fault, eccentric, prickly and embittered by experience, but someone for whom Eastwick has evident respect.

E. Errington (ed.), Charles Masson and the Buddhist Sites of Afghanistan: Explorations, Excavations, Collections 1832–1835 (2017);

The Charles Masson Archive: British Library, British Museum and Other Documents Relating to the 1832–1838 Masson Collection from Afghanistan (2017);

Charles Masson: Collections from Begram and Kabul Bazaar, Afghanistan 1833–1838 (2021);

W. Dalrymple, Return of a King: the Battle for Afghanistan (2013);

J.A. Norris, The First Afghan War, 1838-42 (1967);

B. Omrani, “Charles Masson of Afghanistan: Deserter, Scholar, Spy”, Asian Affairs 39 (2008), 199-21;

G. L. Possehl, “An Archaeological Adventurer in Afghanistan: Charles Masson”, South Asian Studies 6 (1990), 111-124;

E. Richardson, Alexandria: the Quest for the Lost City (2021);

G. Whitteridge, Charles Masson of Afghanistan (1986).