Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Boy King, the Governor, and the Dwarf

When we study history, we tend to have a profound sense of the gap that separates us from our subjects. Reading, for instance, about Cleopatra's decision to nobly commit suicide by snake bite, rather than be paraded as a captive through Rome by the triumphant Octavian, can provide interesting and intriguing insights into history, but the gap between us and them - the chasm between our world views and theirs - is difficult to cross. The world was an immensely different place for them than it is for us.

But sometimes we read stories from history that seem to bridge that chasm and bring about a sense of unity with our ancient subjects, leading us to the realization that humans of the ancient past really weren't so much different than we are today.

Such is the case with the ancient Egyptian king known as Pepi II, a ruler of the Old Kingdom of Egyptian history, living around 2200 B.C.E.

Pepi II in childhood
Pepi is famous, primarily, for being credited with the longest monarchical reign of any king or queen in all of world history. We have two sources for his reign. The earliest is the so-called Turin King List, which was created around the time of Ramses II - roughly 1200 B.C.E. This document lists all the kings prior to Ramses and gives their length of reign. Pepi II is credited with 90 years in this text. The second source comes from the writings of Manetho, a historian who lived around 250 B.C.E. He credits Pepi II with a 99 year reign.

Traditionally, historians have split the difference and suggested a reign of roughly 94 years. Some modern experts, however, are skeptical of this. When ancient Egyptians wrote about things the king said or did, they tended to date their work. Thus, we may find a royal proclamation dated to Year 7 of the reign of so-and-so. In the case of Pepi II, we have found nothing dated beyond Year 64 of his reign. This, of course, does not mean he must necessarily have died shortly thereafter; it could be that we simply haven't yet found whatever artifacts may still exist from that period. This lack of archaeological evidence beyond Year 64, however, is what has led to the modern disputes.

In any case, whether 64 or 94 years, Pepi II ruled for a very long time, particularly by ancient Egyptian standards. Even at 64 years, he'd have the second longest reign of any ruler of ancient Egypt - a period covering roughly 3,000 years.

We know from archaeological evidence that Pepi took the throne as a 6-year-old. Only two statues of Pepi have ever been found, and both depict him as a boy king. On one, he is perched lovingly on the lap of his mother.

Pepi is depicted here in the royal headdress worn only by kings.
It is from this period of Pepi's reign that we find a story that is rather striking in its ability to bridge the gap between the modern and the ancient.

Like the other rulers of his era, Pepi's capital was in northern Egypt, at Memphis (near modern Cairo). Being based so far from his southern border, he needed strong governors in the south to maintain peace and commerce. One of these governors was a man named Harkhuf, who had served first under Pepi's father, then under Pepi. He probably died while Pepi was still a boy king.

Based out of an island city called Elephantine, Harkhuf was not just a governor, but also an explorer into the nether regions south of the Egyptian kingdom. In the area of modern day Sudan, these regions were wild and mysterious to the ancient Egyptians, but full of precious metals and trade goods. Harkhuf evidently made several trading journeys into this region, bringing back with him numerous valuables which he delivered to the king at Memphis.

Following one of these expeditions, he returned to Elephantine and sent a letter north to the boy king Pepi providing a list of the things he had procured, promising to bring them to the king as soon as possible. Among other things, he apparently told Pepi that he had discovered, and brought back with him, a dwarf from "the land of the spirits." Dwarfs, who likely came from the pygmy tribes of central Africa, were highly prized by the ancient Egyptians, and were believed to have supernatural powers. Like dwarfs of the 19th century and even today, they also provided a source of entertainment.

We know of this story about Harkhuf and the dwarf because a letter of response that Pepi sent back to Harkhuf was inscribed on Harkhuf's tomb in southern Egypt. It is dated to Year 2 of Pepi's reign (which actually means the fourth year, because regnal years were biennial - meaning 730 days instead of 365). So Pepi was about 10 years old. Here's what the letter says (with a few parts cut out, or summarized, for length's sake; also, note that when Pepi says "my Majesty," he is referring to himself):
I have noted the matter of your letter, which you have sent to the king, to the palace, in order that one might know that you have descended in safety from Yam [that is, the mysterious region south of Egypt]...You have said in your letter that you have brought all great and beautiful gifts...

You have said in your letter that you have brought a dancing dwarf of the gods from the land of spirits...You have said to my Majesty: "Never before has one like him been brought by any other who has visited Yam."

Come northward to the court immediately. Bring this dwarf with you, which you have taken living, prosperous and healthy from the land of spirits, [so that he may] warm and gladden the heart of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Neferkare [that is, Pepi II], who lives forever.

When he goes down with you into the boat, appoint excellent people who will be beside him on each side of the boat. Take care that he does not fall into the water. When he sleeps at night, appoint excellent people who will sleep beside him in his tent. Check on him ten times a night. My Majesty desires to see this dwarf more than the gifts of Sinai and of Punt. If you arrive at court with this dwarf still living, prosperous, and healthy, my Majesty will do [great things for you], since it is the heart's desire of my Majesty to see this dwarf.
This may be the most precious thing I have ever read in an ancient document or inscription. More than all the silver and gold and precious jewels, more than all the trade goods and valuable donations to the palace, the boy king really, really, really wants to see this dwarf!

Harkhuf must have made it to Memphis with the dwarf safely in tow; the fact that he inscribed Pepi's letter of praise on his tomb is evidence of this. If he had failed, the letter would have been like a condemnation and a reminder of the failure.

As such, we can envision the 10-year-old boy king bouncing with delight as this little pygmy from central Africa astounded the court with his spirit dances and magic tricks. But more than anything else, the boy king's undisguised excitement at the prospect of seeing the dwarf is what really connects us to the past. He was just a kid, not much different than kids today, who would also be delighted at the pranks and antics of a costumed dwarf.

As we saw above, Pepi went on to live a very long time. As he grew older, the stability of his government weakened. This fact may provide evidence to support the notion that he ruled well into his 90's. In his last decades - no doubt a feeble old man - he was not able to keep the same level of control over his nation and its more ambitious provincial rulers. After his death, Egypt fell apart, beginning the era that Egyptologists call the First Intermediate Period. Centralized government collapsed, and Egypt fell into a state of decay, with various rulers ruling small regions from local capitals, often warring with each other. This lasted for about 100 years, until Egypt was finally united again under a powerful southern ruler named Mentuhotep II. He defeated his northern counterpart and established the Middle Kingdom of ancient Egyptian history.

But regardless of what happened late in his reign, or after his reign, it is this story from the early years of his reign, as a boy king perched on his mother's lap, that has the ability to warm the heart and connect us, in common humanity, with figures of the ancient past.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Melancholy and Diarrhea

So, I'm an ancestry.com addict. I first got interested in genealogical research around 2004, and with a subscription this year to ancestry.com, I've been able to uncover a lot of new information about my family.

If you're interested in researching your family, ancestry.com is definitely well worth the money.

Being a history buff, I love finding family connections to important events in history. It just gets me all a-tingle.

Just to give a brief (ha) run-down:

* So far, I have found ancestry through England, Germany, Switzerland, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and France. So much for picking just one nationality to explain your heritage. For what it's worth, through the male line in my family, we are of English decent. I have traced my male family name back to the 1600's in Leicestershire, England. These ancestors seem to have arrived in Virginia in the 1630's, just a few years after the Mayflower.

Bosworth Battlefield in Leicestershire.  It was here that Richard III became the
last English king to die in battle, in the late 1400's.  

* I was surprised to discover a French line in my family. In the U.S., people tend to think of folks with French heritage all living in Louisiana. However, through one of my maternal lines, I have discovered French descent. This ancestor was named James Boisseau, and he was a French protestant living in Saumur, France. Saumur was a strongly protestant area in the otherwise largely Catholic France, and there is a chateau there that was first built in the 900's by the Count of Blois, an ancestor to Stephen of Blois, who became King of England in the 1100's. The original chateau was destroyed around the time of William the Conquerer in the 1060's, and was later rebuilt by Henry II, nephew of King Stephen.

The Chateau de Saumur

As for James Boisseau of Saumur, he was born in the 1650's, and was a protestant minister in the Reformed tradition of Calvin. These French protestants were known as Huguenots. He was born during a time of religious unease in France, and in 1685, Louis XIV outlawed protestant religion in France with the Edict of Fontainebleau. This led to a mass exodus of Huguenots, of which my ancestor James Boisseau was one. He sought refuge in England, but did not stay long. Upon arriving there, he applied for passage to the New World, and was granted emigrant status to be a "Huguenot minister to the colonists."

After reaching Virginia, he married a woman from Salem, Massachusetts, in 1691. Perhaps she had fled to Virginia because she was a witch and was trying to evade the Witch Trials, which were all the rage at the time. Or not. In any case, they brought forth their first born son in 1692 and named him James.

The family stayed in Virginia for several generations (Dinwiddie County, to be precise), and a great-grandson - John Boisseau - fought in the Revolutionary War as a 16-year-old volunteer. He fought in the Battle of Camden, which was a significant defeat for the colonists against the British under the famous Lord Cornwallis, and he also fought at the Battle of Petersburg (a Virginia city more famous for its Civil War battles).

This Boisseau family eventually produced my maternal grandmother, who was born in Kentucky.

* Some of my paternal ancestors were evidently reasonably wealthy landowners in Virginia who also owned quite a few slaves. I have found a Last Will and Testament of my great(x6) grandfather from the 1760's in which he doles out his slaves by name to each of his children. They had names like Old Peter and Young Peter, Morning, Old Beck, Moses, Quon, Blackman, and Judah.

* Most of my ancestors, particularly on my father's side, were uneducated farmers. On census form after census form, I find ancestors listed as unable to read and write. These census forms are interesting because they also frequently list occupations. The occupation of virtually all the women is "keeping house," and while "farmer" and "laborer" are most common among the men, I have found things like "shoe and boot maker" and "wagon maker."

* None of my direct ancestors fought in either World War I or World War II. The ages of the various men in my family virtually disqualified all of them from either of these conflicts. I have known all my life, however, that I had an ancestor who fought in the Civil War. This is my paternal great-great grandfather, who was called "Clipper." I was aware, however, that he was already older than I am now when the Civil War broke out (late 30's), so I have long assumed he probably didn't take part in much real fighting. In addition to other discoveries, however, I've discovered that this probably isn't true.

To begin with, I have (to date) found not just one, but ten ancestors who fought in the Civil War. Most of them probably knew each other, and all of but one of them fought in the same regiment together.

Both of my father's parents were from the same region in western Kentucky. This explains why both my paternal grandfather and grandmother had ancestors who fought together in the same regiment. In late 1861, after the Civil War began earlier in the summer, the Confederates moved into western Kentucky, heading for the Ohio River, which was one of the big landmarks between the north and the south. As a result of this, the Union army mustered volunteer regiments in western Kentucky to fight these Confederates. My great-great grandfather Clipper enlisted as a private in October of 1861, trained for six weeks, then joined the 11th Kentucky Volunteer Regiment in December. He joined up with two younger brothers - Jesse and James - and two cousins - Samuel and Elijah. Additionally, they were joined by a cousin-in-law of Jesse - his wife's cousin. So there were six of them that all signed up on the same day, trained at the same camp, and joined the same regiment.

Three ancestors of my paternal grandmother were also part of this same regiment. A fourth fought with the 27th Kentucky.

I found some interesting biographical details of each of these people. My great-great grandfather Clipper came through unscathed, and was noted as having led a division of his men in the march to Shiloh, a major battle in which the regiment fought. His youngest brother, James, also came through the war unscathed.

His middle brother, Jesse, was captured in a skirmish in October of 1863 prior to the siege of Knoxville. He was taken to Belle Island Prison, in Richmond, before being transferred in February of 1864 to the infamous Andersonville Prison Camp outside Atlanta. Nearly 1 in 4 Union soldiers in this camp died of malnutrition, starvation, and disease, and the Confederacy was accused of war crimes because of it. My great-great grandfather's brother Jesse was a victim. He died of dysentery there in May of 1864.

The Andersonville Prison Camp

The two cousins - Samuel and Elijah - both died of sickness outside the field of battle. Poor Samuel never even made it out of Kentucky. He died of pneumonia in December of 1861 before the regiment ever marched. Elijah died about a year later, in December of 1862, of typhoid.

As for my grandmother's ancestors, one of her great-grandfathers - Christopher C. Moore - was wounded severely on December 31, 1862, at the Battle of Stone's River, which took place near Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Another great-grandfather, David Ewing, spent much of the war on sick leave, including a period listed as AWOL, and was eventually discharged in 1863 for disability. Humorously enough, his disability was listed as "melancholy and diarrhea." This could literally be the title of a book about my grandmother's family.

This David Ewing also had a brother who fought with the regiment, and he was killed in action at the aforementioned Battle of Stone's River. This great-great-great grand-uncle is the only ancestor I've found so far who was actually killed in action. Considering that it was just a few months later that David Ewing was discharged for "melancholy and diarrhea," this "melancholy" was presumably related to his brother's death. Not sure about the diarrhea.

After the war, my great-great grandfather Clipper came home, only to have his wife die a year later, in early 1866. Being that he needed a woman at home to cook his meals and warm his bed, he remarried the following year to a woman about half his age. This woman was Rhoda Ann Hudnall, the sister of Jesse's widow (Jesse, you'll recall, was the brother who died in the POW camp). Clipper and Rhoda had a number of children, including my great-grandfather, and they named their last son Jesse, in honor of Clipper's dead brother.

Clipper and Rhoda.  Such is the stock from whence I come.

Luke and Mandy.  Luke was the son of Clipper and my great-grandfather.
I'm not sure if he's trying to look like Wyatt Earp or not, but he pulls it off.
And I don't know about you, but I wouldn't kick Mandy out of bed.  Just sayin'.  

* Two of my ancestors were named Greenberry.

* I have a lot of good Puritans in my family. I've found names like Goodman, Temperance, and Pleasant.

* Sometimes, genealogical research disproves family stories. I grew up always being told that I had Native American on my mother's side. The story was that my mother's father had a grandmother who was full Cherokee. Unless the information I've gotten from ancestry.com is completely and totally wrong (and there's really not any way that it is), this story is apparently a myth. We're all good red-blooded Europeans. My mother's father, and his brothers, all had leather, tawny skin, and perhaps this is where the story came from.

* Sometimes, genealogical research turns up stories you'd rather not have known. As above, unless the information I'm getting at ancestry.com is unreliable, there was a touch of inbreeding going on in my mother's family in the early 1800's. Hardy and his wife Dorothy Kirby had several children, two of which were James and Elizabeth. Elizabeth, who was much older, married Matthew Summerville and had a daughter named Mary Summerville. Mary decided her uncle James looked mighty fine, so they hooked up and produced my great-grandfather, whose son was my mother's father. Maybe that explains the "Native American" look of that family!!

* To the best of my knowledge, the first people in my entire family history to have college degrees were my parents and their various siblings and cousins. I can't speak for all the great-grand uncles and aunts and all the 3rd cousins twice removed, but among my direct ancestors, it wasn't, apparently, until the mid-20th century that anyone attained a college education.

* The farthest back I've been able to take a particular branch of the family is into the 1400's in England. I've taken a different branch back to the early 1500's in Wales. In both of these cases, however, I am relying mainly on other public family trees, and I can't really be certain that the information is accurate, since I have no idea where it comes from. The farthest back I've been able to go with relative certainty is to the mid-1600's with several different lines.

Luke and Mandy again, now with their children.  My grandfather is on the back left, in the white shirt.
Check out Ears McGillicutty, at right.  

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Paul vs. Matthew: A Christian Conundrum

From Paul's letter to the Romans, circa 58 C.E., chapter 7, verse 6:

But now we are discharged from the Law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

From Matthew's Gospel, circa 85 C.E., from the lips of Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount, chapter 5, verses 17 to 20:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

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