Tag Archives: “middle east”

QUAINT #27 Arbaces from “The Last Days of Pompeii” by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

A depiction of the destruction of Pompeii from the documentary special Pompeii: The Last Day

Arbaces was created by Edward Bulwer-Lytton and appeared in The Last Days of Pompeii (1834). Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron of Knebworth (1803-1873) was a popular, productive, and influential writer for over 40 years. His reputation has unjustly suffered for many decades. Bulwer-Lytton also created Monsieur Favart, Margrave, Mr. Richards, Vril, and Zanoni.

The Last Days of Pompeii is about the lives of several characters in Pompeii in the final days before Mt. Vesuvius erupted. Two friends, Clodius, an effete Roman, and Glaucus, a popular Greek, are walking to the public baths when they see a beautiful, blind flower girl. She is obviously Greek, and this reminds Glaucus of another Greek woman he knew, who he had fallen in love with but had lost contact with. As Glaucus and Clodius speak they run into Arbaces, the Egyptian priest of Isis, a figure of power in Pompeii but one who is unlikable, and both Glaucus and Clodius detest him. Arbaces thinks little of either of them, for he hates the Romans and the Greeks and secretly prays for the return of Egypt to power. Until that time, however, he plots and schemes to accumulate personal power and indulge his own depraved tastes.

Arbaces is an Egyptian living in Pompeii. He is a magician, the “Lord of the Burning Girdle” and “he…from whom all cultivators of magic, from north to south, from east to west, from the Ganges and the Nile to the vales of Thessaly and the shores of the yellow Tiber, have stooped to learn.” In Pompeii he is a figure of fear and respect, in large part because he is rumored to wield the Evil Eye. He has contacts everywhere, especially among the Priests of Isis, whose chief Calenus is his servant and into whose company Arbaces personally inducts a number of priests. Arbaces is far more intelligent than everyone else around him, and even though his magic is humbug he is cunning enough to fool everyone with it.

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#80 Shadi Ghadirian & Muslim Women “Time Travelers”

If nineteenth-century Iranian women discovered time travel, where would they go? What would they bring back?

Photographer Shadi Ghadirian did not have these questions in mind, persay, but she is interested in how the Western world perceives Iranian woman like herself. In her photography series “Qajar,” she brings out the cognitive dissonance that someone unfamiliar with Iran may experience, as well as comments about the position of women in society today.

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QUAINT #24 Sufrah, Geomancer by Marcel Schwob

Illustration by Maxfield Parrish from The Arabian Nights, 1909.

Sufrah was created by Marcel Schwob and appears in “Sufrah, Geomancer” (Vie Imaginaire, 1896). Schwob was also the creator of the King in the Golden Mask and Septima.

“Sufrah, Geomancer” is a sequel to the Arabian Nights. Moghrabi Sufrah is the magician who is Aladdin’s enemy in the Arabian Nights, but as “Sufrah, Geomancer” tells us, at the end of the Arabian Nights Sufrah’s body was not burned black by the drug he consumed, but rather put into a deep sleep. Sufrah escapes from Aladdin’s palace through a window while Aladdin is making love to the princess. But when Aladdin’s palace disappears to China, as happens in the Arabian Nights, Sufrah is left alone in the open desert, without any food or water. Nor does he have any magic charms he can cast or magic items he can use to rescue himself.

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QUAINT #22: “Les Xipéhuz” (The Shapes) by J.H. Rosny

Close up of Danae Stratou's "Desert Breath", which would be an apt illustration for this novelette. Image courtesy of io9. Click for link.

The Xipéhuz were created by “J. H. Rosny (aîné)” and appeared in “Les Xipéhuz” (“The Shapes,” L’Immolation, 1887). “J. H. Rosny (aîné)” was the pen name of Joseph Henri Honoré Böex (1866-1940), a French author. For many years after his death Böex was forgotten, primarily because the majority of his work was written in disrespected genres like science fiction and the prehistoric romance. But in recent years critics and academics have begun paying him more attention and giving him the credit he deserves. Böex produced some remarkable science fiction and is considered (with Jules Verne) to be one of the most influential figures in the development of science fiction in France. “Les Xipéhuz” is one of his most famous, and best, stories.

“Les Xipéhuz” is set in the Middle East, circa 5000 B.C.E. A nomad tribe, the Pjehu, discover a group of “translucent bluish cones, point uppermost, each nearly half the bulk of a man…each one had a dazzling star near its base,” clustered around a spring. When the Pjehu draw close to the cones, or “the Shapes” as the narrator calls them, the Shapes attack them, killing many, although they only target warriors and avoid killing women, children, the sick and the aged. But the Shapes do not pursue the Pjehu beyond a certain distance and ignore them if they leave the Shapes alone. The Pjehu, shaken, consult a group of local priests who decide that the Shapes are gods and that they must be sacrificed to. But the Shapes kill those priests who approach them.

The priests experiment with slaves and determine the distance beyond which the Shapes will not pursue humans, and then the priests set that boundary with stakes and decree that the Shapes are to be left alone. But other tribes are not told about the priests’ decree or ignore it, and members of those tribes cross the boundary and are massacred. Then the Shapes begin expanding their territory. When the tribes try to resist, hundreds of their warriors are killed by the Shapes. All the tribes of Mesopotamia begin fearing for the existence of Man, and some men turn to dark cults.

The tribes’ wise men at last consult the hermit Bakhun. Long ago he had abandoned a nomadic life for a pastoral one, and in so doing flourished. Bakhun believes in odd and unusual things, like the sun, moon, and stars being “luminous masses” rather than gods, and that “men should really believe only in those things tested by measurement.” Bakhun tells the wise men that he will dedicate his life to studying the Shapes. He does so, and draws a number of significant conclusions, most important of which is that the Shapes are living beings rather than spirits or gods.

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QUAINT #16 Vathek: An Arabian Tale by William Beckford

Vathek was created by William Beckford and appeared in Vathek: An Arabian Tale from an Unpublished Manuscript, with Notes Critical and Explanatory (1786). Beckford (1760-1844) was one of English literature’s real oddities. He lived a life of scandal and extravagance, both financial and sexual, and even in the 21st century his name retains the faint air of scandal. But more important than Beckford’s personal life is the fact that he wrote Vathek, one of the greatest of all Gothic novels.

Vathek, the grandson of Haroun al-Raschid, is the Caliph of Samarah. He is dedicated to sensual pleasure and has built five palaces, one for the enjoyment of each sense. Vathek has a “pleasing and majestic” figure, and a keen intellect. When angered his glance can kill. He has an enormous amount of determination and is willing to sacrifice much for his goals. But he is magnificently dissolute and addicted to pleasure, sensuality, and new sensations. He is enormously self-centered and considers the lives of others small prices to pay for his own happiness and the achievement of his goals. He is unable to resist temptation, and his own “unquiet and impetuous disposition” will not allow him to be content with the wealth and comfort he already has.

Vathek builds a mighty tower to better pursue his interest in astrology and to penetrate the secrets of Heaven, and Mahomet Himself sends genii to help Vathek, but the tower only shows Vathek how much he enjoys looking down on humanity from the its summit. But one day an intensely ugly creature arrives at Vathek’s court bearing wondrous objects, knives that cut without the hand being moved and sabers which harm those who the wielder wished harmed. The stranger does not speak to Vathek, so the hot-tempered Vathek has him imprisoned, only to find him vanished the next morning and his guards slain.
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QUAINT #6 Hajji Baba from “Hajji Baba of Ispahan” & “Hajji Baba in England” by James Morier

Hajji Baba enjoys the company of Zeenab. After Ḥabl al-matin Persian tr., Calcutta, 1905, opp. p. 142. Caption & Image courtesy of Encyclopaedia Iranica. Click for source.

Hajji Baba was created by James Morier and appeared in Hajji Baba of Ispahan (1824) and Hajji Baba in England (1827). Morier (1780-1849) was a British diplomat, adventurer, and author. He first went to Persia in 1807 and visited it and surrounding countries several times over the next decade. His desire to write something in the Persian style of Arabian Nights produced Hajji Baba of Ispahan.

Hajji Baba is a charming rogue, someone who began life as a barber/surgeon but whose wanderlust and desire for money led him to leave home on a caravan when he was only sixteen. But the course of roguery doth ne’er run smooth, and he is almost immediately captured by a band of Turcoman bandits. Hajji Baba lets himself be captured a second time by a shahzadeh (prince) and is taken to Meshed, where he becomes a water carrier. Hajji Baba sprains his back carrying water–his boastfulness leads him to take on far too much weight, including that of his main rival–and so he becomes an itinerant vender of smoke. But he cuts his tobacco with dung once too often and is caught by the Mohtesib (“the Mohtesib is an officer who perambulates the city, and examines weights and measures, and qualities of provisions”) and bastinadoed for his fraud. So Hajji Baba becomes a dervish, telling colorful stories and shaking down listeners for money; he stops in mid-story, just when things are getting good, and asks for donations in exchange for his continuing. He then becomes a doctor to the Shah of Persia, a position he loses due to an imprudent love affair.
And so on and so forth, for hundreds of pages, through colorful stories and attractive boasts and genial swindles and painless mendacity and jovial hypocrisy and maidens fair and wry observations at the foibles of the mighty and the poor.

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QUAINT #1 Raphael Aben-Ezra from Rev. Charles Kingsley’s Hypatia

Illustration from Hypatia titled "Raphael and the Mob"

Raphael Aben-Ezra was created by the Reverend Charles Kingsley and appears in Hypatia; or, New Foes with an Old Face, which first appeared in Fraser’s Magazine beginning in January 1852. It was published in two volumes in 1853.

Hypatia is set in Alexandria in 415 C.E. and follows the final months of the life of Hypatia of Alexandria (370-415 C.E.), the first major female mathematician and the head of the Alexandrian Neoplatonic School. Her former student and friend Raphael Aben-Ezra, a cynic, also begins to question the truth behind his personal philosophy.

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#55 International Influences: The Rise of Fashion Designer Guo Pei

Steampunk fashion is seen as modern interpretation of fantastical ideas based on history. This trend of multicultural influence and inspiration seen in steampunk fashion is also reflective in fashion trends today. The rise of Chinese designer Guo Pei is one example of this; she has been well-known in Chinese fashion circles for many years, but her recent collections created buzz throughout the runways of the world, in particular her 1002nd Arabian Night collection.

Her work represents an inspirational blend–not only derived from the famous Arabian tales, but also influences from classical Chinese fairy tales and classics from the West as well. In these designs, delicate blue and white designs reminiscent of Ming vases mingle with rich, plumed imagery of birds and Persian motifs and decadent Rocco and baroque styles. Combined with Pei’s striking geometric vision, her couture collection is a blend of classic fantasy and modern avant-garde.

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Beyond Victoriana Special Edition Odds & Ends #7

This weekend, I’m rockin’ it out at New York Comic Con.  I’m there mostly doing the Day Job thing, unfortunately (though, if I can, I might wear my steampunk for Sunday.)

For anyone who manages to recognize me in my civvies, though, you’ll probably end up being filmed or photographed, if you’re looking fabulous and want to flaunt it.

In the meantime, enjoy the linkspam below. This edition features lots of interesting essays, some awesome postcards, and a video of my interview with Cherie Priest.

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Beyond Victoriana Special Edition Odds & Ends #6

Work has been hectic as of late, and I’m also in the midst of preparing for Dragon*Con. I don’t have as much new stuff planned out for this week as I had hoped, but have you checked out my essay series about multiculturalism in steampunk yet? And see the links below for more good things to read/watch/run in the streets shouting about.

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