Friday, August 30

Italian archaeologists have grape expectations of their ancient wine


I thought you will like to read about what the Italian archaeologists are doing. Specially given that we were in Sicily couple of weeks back. Fascinating exercise eh? I wonder how their wine will turn out. 



Italian archaeologists have grape expectations of their ancient wine


The University of Catania's vines are secured with canes and woven juniper leaves. Photograph: Mario Indelicato

Archeologists in Italy have set about making red wine exactly as the ancient Romans did, to see what it tastes like.

Based at the University of Catania in Sicily and supported by Italy's national research centre, a team has planted a vineyard near Catania using techniques copied from ancient texts and expects its first vintage within four years.

"We are more used to archeological digs but wanted to make society more aware of our work, otherwise we risk being seen as extraterrestrials," said archaeologist Daniele Malfitana.

Thursday, August 29

The representation of Italian nudes due to Indians?

What a curious argument. I quote:

We discovered innumerable lands, we saw innumerable people and different languages, and all were naked.1 (Amerigo Vespucci, letter to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, 1500)

This essay proposes that we question the current understanding of the Italian Renaissance nude by examining contemporaries’ perceptions of nakedness. Despite the importance of the nude for the development of Western art, there have been few studies that consider how the revival of the nude form in fifteenth-century Italy was understood by people at the time.2 Most scholars, understandably, see the new fashion for portraying naked figures in the fifteenth century as a direct reflection of the enthusiasm for classical antiquity during this era. Without denying the crucial importance of antique precedents, I wish here to investigate another possibility: that travellers’ accounts of naked natives encountered on European voyages of exploration, particularly those to sub-Saharan Africa, influenced the creation of what has been called a ‘Renaissance anthropology’ – debates about the nature of mankind.3 This provided a new conceptual filter through which the nude figure was seen – and in some cases, these accounts may have directly affected the iconography of otherwise puzzling images.

The article has four main inter-related areas of focus:

  • the increased nakedness of depictions of Adam and Eve from the early fifteenth century, placed in the context of Renaissance understandings of the development of early mankind – and an emphasis on nakedness as a symbol of human potential;
  • a survey of Italian travel accounts that invoke stereotypes of nakedness as a symbol for peoples understood to have no civic society, religion or social differentiation;
  • the increased presence of black Africans in Italian cities (particularly as slaves) over the course of the fifteenth century – with an analysis of Pisanello's Luxuria in this context;
  • Florentine links with the Portuguese voyages to Africa, and descriptions of battling tribesmen, as a means of interpreting Antonio del Pollaiuolo's Battle of Naked Men, a seminal work in the development of the nude form.

I was specially caught by mention of Niccolo dei Conti, who visited India from Italy around 1439AD. He was the second Italian trader who visited India after Marco Polo (1295 or so). He seems to have married an Indian and travelled all over the Middle East, India and South East Asia. Amazing fella (hereis a great biography of the chap) but the interesting hypothesis is that the travel accounts from Africa and India helped to influence the portrayal of nudes in Italian art. I am not that close to all the various permutations of Italian Art, but it is interesting to note the time period after which nudes become common…how curious.

Wednesday, August 28

When India invaded Hyderabad

This was a fascinating article dating back to 1950 which I read recently. It talks about how the state of Hyderabad merged into India after independence. Its amazing how much has changed since then. The state of Hyderabad is going to be bifurcated by Telengana being born. I didn't realise how much communism had its roots in this area and how much Nehru worried that it can become the source of a Maoist central hub..Also how many Muslims were killed by the Hindu’s after the “police action”. Estimates range between 50,000-200,000 and some even higher. But I would like to quote the last section intoto.

It would seem beyond all cavil that the new regime was both
welcomed, and justly welcomed, by the great majority of the
population of Hyderabad. Even for the Muslim minority, the
regime is on paper fair, substantially undiscriminating. But it
would, indeed, be hardly human if at least the lower Hindu
officials took no advantage of their new power to deviate from
the ideal of impartiality. More calamitous is the plight of the
village Muslim, who probably was not personally implicated
in Razakar activities, but, glad enough to escape with his life,
lost his home and goods at the time of the invasion and has but
the little man's chance of getting them back. On a larger scale,
the entire Muslim community suffered at once from insecurity,
from the social and economic revolution which dislodged it as
the ruling class. The Muslims' status as a community had been
intimately bound up with an antique social structure which was
now being discarded. In the new society their problem is not
that of being given a status that they can call unjust, but the
difficulty of building up for themselves any status at all. The
loss of privilege is itself a downfall, in which legal justice may
go with economic disaster. No social revolution, however neces-
sary or just, can fail to disrupt the group which it abruptly ousts
from power. In theory, the Hyderabad Muslims in the new
order took their place indiscriminately along with everyone else;
in practice, they, who had been seated as it were on the platform,
have had to find themselves places on the floor already fully
occupied by firmly established, and defiant, crowds. Even in a
democracy the position, economic and other, of a small minority
depends not only on the justice of the laws but also on the degree
to which that minority is accepted by the major group. And in
Hyderabad, although the laws be democratic, society will be
Apart from the initial blow and the long-term readjustment
to the loss of social integration and of function, the Muslims

suffered also an inner dismay. It is too early yet to say whether
this psychological upheaval may not prove in the end the most
significant. It is part of the spiritual crisis through which Islam
is passing in the modern world. The two chief factors in this
crisis were both acute in the Hyderabad instance: the impact of
an unassimilated modernity on an old-world way of life and its
Weltanschauung; and the loss of power.
One wonders how the group, or anyway its leaders, could have
lost their heads so starkly as they did before the invasion.
Originally, the Nizam apparently felt that the British with-
drawal from India, coupled with partition, would lead to chaos;
and that out of the confusion he, with an army, wealth and
prestige, stood a fair chance of emerging as a major power in a
Balkanized India. The hope was not at first absurd, but should
have faded within six months. After this, he made, as to power
dynamics, a series of astonishing miscalculations, both interna-
tionally and in home affairs; until he allowed a vicious group of
men within the state to acquire power to a point where he could
no longer control them. He emerges as a clever man utterly desti-
tute of wisdom. The Razakar leaders were ruthless fanatics and
criminals who played for sordid stakes and lost. The mass of
Muslims was poor and ignorant, leading lives in which there
was little of significance except their religion and its social
solidarity. They are traditionally gullible, ardent but easily
misled. Several hundred thousand, however, had nothing to do
with the Nizam or the Razakars; but the innocent, too, suffer
for the mistakes of their community's leaders. The most signifi-
cant blundering was that of the middle classes, the one group
who might have saved the situation but failed utterly in both
understanding and judgment.
Brought up in an isolated, anachronistic society, with a point
of view that throughout much of the world would have seemed
normal only a few centuries back, the Muslims of Hyderabad
sincerely believed that their group's portion was to rule, the
Hindus' portion to learn to be content. The Muslims reposed,
too, a remarkably blind faith in the legal validity of their posi-
tion, and it will be generally conceded that in the dispute with
India, Hyderabad's case was on the whole considerably the

stronger in law. Along with their false sense of traditional and
legalistic security went perhaps the opposite - a subconscious
fear. They were frightened by what, in the explosive weeks fol-
lowing partition, had happened to millions of their coreligion-
ists in northern India; frightened, perhaps, by the awareness of
what would happen to them, once they lost supremacy at home.
Such a dread, growing more intense and irrational, may have
inhibited them from facing facts, as well as driven them to
aggression. Or, more rationally, there were those who felt that
any concession to Hindu India would in any case eventuate in
their doom; and that therefore resistance, at whatever cost, could
not be wrong. Also, there was present that curious confusion
between the moral and material strength of Islam which besets
many Muslims.
However it may have arisen, the Muslims' hybris, the over-
weening pride that led them to extravagant folly, brought them,
as in a Greek drama, to disaster. That their fate was to some
degree deserved, their suffering therefore self-inflicted, is in-
tegral to the tragedy.

Tuesday, August 27

Alawites in Syria and Alevis in Turkey: Crucial Differences

It's getting horribly dirty in Syria son. Very complicated. Syrian history, in some ways, is even more complicated than say Jerusalem and Israel. For a supposedly holy land, the land has been drenched with blood far too much. 

Anyway, one particular view on the two of many sects in Syria. 



Alawites in Syria and Alevis in Turkey: Crucial Differences :: Center for Islamic Pluralism

by Stephen Schwartz
Gatestone Institute
August 17, 2012

Prophet Muhammad names Imam Ali as his successor, according to Shia tradition, depicted in a 14th c. CE manuscript -- Image Via Wikimedia Commons.

Sectarian differences, threatening to ensnare Muslims outside Syria's borders, have emerged as a key aspect of the horrific bloodshed there. Since February 2011 the Syrian protestors, mainly following Sunni Islam, have mobilized against the Baathist government of Bashar Al-Assad, as a further chapter in the "Arab Spring." As of the end of July 2012, fatalities in the Syrian fighting are estimated at more than 20,000.

In Syria, Al-Assad's state, military, and irregular militias draw significantly on a small – and, to the world, mysterious – variant of Shia Islam known as Alawites. Of Syria's population of 22 million, at least two million are Alawites; it is common to see them credited with 12 percent of the country's inhabitants. They mostly reside in the Syrian province of Latakia, from the northwest border with Turkey along the Mediterranean coast, and in southern Syria. Alawites are also found in Lebanon, and among Syrians and Lebanese abroad.

In Turkey, northward beyond the uneasy Syrian-Turkish frontier, and concentrated in eastern Anatolia, another Shia sect, the Alevis, comprise, according to many estimates, a quarter of the Turkish census, or 20 million out of 80 million. They include, in addition, a million in the Turkish diaspora in Germany, and still more in the ranks of emigrants from Turkey to the Netherlands and other Western European lands.

It is easy to conflate the Alawites and Alevis. Superficially the Alawites and the Alevis may seem related closely or even identical, especially because of their corresponding names; moreover, about a half million Arab Alawites also live on the Turkish side of the border with Syria.