Saturday, March 9, 2013

Sun-Tzu: Warrior for Peace

The famous Chinese military strategist Sun-Tzu believed that war was costly and inefficient. He claimed that the best strategy was to win the war before the opponent was engaged on the field. Sun-Tzu writes, “To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting” (Sun-Tzu, 2.2). This principle has been adopted and adapted to modern business commerce with great success but, for some reason, the U.S. government has failed to recognize his brilliance in their efforts concerning the `war on terror'.

Sun-Tzu (if a person of that name really existed) believed that winning over an opponent consisted primarily in knowing that opponent and how one could best use the deficiencies of the enemy to one's advantage in order to end a conflict swiftly with minimal casualties to either side. Today, with international terrorism at the forefront of the news on a daily basis, one would do well to study, and try to learn from, the lessons Sun-Tzu set down in his Art of War.

The link to my article on Sun-Tzu, from Ancient History Encyclopedia, is here:

The piece begins:

Sun Tzu is known as a Chinese military strategist, Taoist philosopher, and general in the 6th century BCE who is widely recognized for his work The Art of War, a treatise on military strategy (also known as The Thirteen Chapters). Whether an individual by the name of `Sun-Tzu’ existed at all has been disputed (in the same way scholars and historians debate the existence of an actual man named Lao-Tzu) but the existence of The Art of War and its profound influence on military campaigns, clearly proves that someone existed to produce said work and that the work is attributed to one Sun-Tzu. The historian Griffith writes:
War, an integral part of the power politics of the age, had become `a matter of vital importance to the state, the province of life and death, the road to survival or ruin’. To be waged successfully, it required a coherent strategic and tactical theory and a practical doctrine governing intelligence, planning, command, operational, and administrative procedures. The author of `The Thirteen Chapters’ was the first man to provide such a theory and such a doctrine. (Griffith, 44).

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hypatia of Alexandria: The Passing of Philosophy to Religion

In 2009, the feature film `Agora' depicted the triumph of Christianity over paganism in Alexandria, Egypt, focusing on the life of the Neo-Platonic scholar Hypatia of Alexandria (lived 370-415 CE). Writer and Director Alejandro Amenabar went to great lengths in maintaining historical accuracy in the film and although some details and sequences in the film depart from history for dramatic purposes (such as Hypatia's death scene) the film is accurate in its portrayal of early Christian zeal and the destruction which follows in the wake of religious extremism.

To the early Christians, Christ's return was not a matter of theological debate but an imminent reality. Claims to `ultimate truth' which contradicted the Christian vision could hardly be tolerated when believers held to the understanding that, `like a thief in the night', the master might return and find them not at the ready.`Agora' was criticized for its depiction of early Christians as brutal and destructive but, in this, the film was entirely accurate. When one believes that one has the ultimate truth one is hardly inclined to tolerate differing views. The behavior of the early Christians was in keeping with that of any zealous follower of any ideology before or since whether of the Egyptians who sought to wipe out the monotheism of Akhenaten (c. 1353-1356 BCE) or those who supported the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960's. My article on Hypatia of Alexandria, published through Ancient History Encyclopedia, examines Hypatia's death in light of the new vision of the Christians in 415 CE and the religious intolerance Christianity encouraged.

The article link is here:

And the piece begins:

Hypatia, the much loved pagan philosopher of Alexandria, Egypt, has long been acknowledged as the symbol of the passing of the old ways and the triumph of the new. Hypatia (370-415 CE) was the daughter of Theon, the last professor of the Alexandrian University (associated closely with the famous Library of Alexandria). Theon was a brilliant mathematician who closely copied Euclid's Elements and the works of Ptolemy and, in the language of our day, home-schooled his daughter in mathematics and philosophy (Deakin in Science/Ockham). Hypatia helped her father in writing commentaries on these works and, in time, wrote her own works and lectured extensively, becoming a woman of note in a culture dominated by male writers and thinkers...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Religious Intolerance: The Rise and Fall of Alexandria, Egypt

At its height, Alexandria, Egypt was the cultural center of the ancient world. The great temples, the library (whether it was as vast as legend has it is of no matter) and the free exchange of ideas attracted scholars and inspired scientists from all over the world. The Pharos, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, presided over the port and ships from every sea-faring nation passed beneath that light. Founded by Alexander the Great, the city was greatly admired for its physical beauty and careful planning by a number of ancient writers. The decline of Alexandria can be attributed directly to religious intolerance as my article in Ancient History Encyclopedia explains.

The article in full is here:

And the piece begins:

Alexandria is a port city on the Mediterranean Sea in northern Egypt founded in 331 BCE by Alexander the Great. It is most famous in antiquity as the site of the Pharos, the great lighthouse, considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, for the Temple of Serapis, the Serapion, which was part of the legendary library at Alexandria, as a seat of learning and, once, the largest and most prosperous city in the world. It also became infamous for the religious strife which resulted in the martyrdom of the philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria in 415 CE. The city grew from a small port town to become the grandest and most important metropolis in ancient Egypt.

After conquering Syria in 332 BCE, Alexander the Great swept down into Egypt with his army. He founded Alexandria in the small port town of Rhakotis by the sea and set about the task of turning it into a great capital. It is said that he designed the plan for the city which was so greatly admired later by the historian Strabo (63 BCE-21CE) who wrote,

“The city has magnificent public precincts and royal palaces which cover a fourth or even a third of the entire area. For just as each of the kings would, from a love of splendour, add some ornament to the public monuments, so he would provide himself at his own expense with a residence in addition to those already standing.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Egyptian Mythology and the Importance of Harmony

Egyptian Mythology, no matter what the content of a specific tale, has at its heart the theme of Ma'at, of harmony. To the ancient Egyptians, life was an eternal journey of which one's earthly existence was merely an aspect. This journey was maintained by constant vigilance concerning balance, harmony, symbolized by the goddess Ma'at and the eternal principle she embodied.

My article on Egyptian Mythology, recently published through Ancient History Encyclopedia, explores this concept through a focus on one of the most famous myths of ancient Egypt: the story of Osiris and Set. The link to the article is here:

And the article begins:

Egyptian Mythology was the belief structure and underlying form of ancient Egyptian culture from at least c. 4000 BCE (as evidenced by burial practices and tomb paintings) to 30 CE with the death of Cleopatra VII, the last of the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt. Every aspect of life in ancient Egypt was informed by the stories which related the creation of the world and the sustaining of that world by the gods.
Egyptian religious beliefs influenced other cultures through transmission via trade and became especially wide-spread after the opening of the Silk Road in 130 BCE as the Egyptian port city of Alexandria was an important commercial centre. The significance of Egyptian mythology to other cultures was in its development of the concept of an eternal life after death, benevolent deities, and reincarnation. Both Pythagoras and Plato of Greece were said to have been influenced by Egyptian beliefs in reincarnation and Roman religious culture borrowed as extensively from Egypt as it did from other civilizations.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

In The Corner at the Dance flash fiction

In Between Altered States Magazine is a free on-line publication which features the surreal and the bizarre in flash fiction format. It's a great experience created and maintained by Ms. Aleathia Drehmer, herself a fine writer, and I've looked forward to each new episode ever since I learned of the magazine's existence. My own surreal little offering, `In The Corner at the Dance', was featured in the last episode. The link to the story is here:

In case the link doesn't work, the piece is here below:

In The Corner at the Dance by Joshua J. Mark

I’m in a land of porcupines with bristling bodies and all eyes. They move before me in circles but never touch me, banging solidly against each other. I see the guy who loves his pistol and always polishes it and if a girl defeats him he lets her die. The mosquito dude lets you live but you lose your hopeful berry. Then there’s iron neck guy who’s worse than triangle head and as I’m watching them all I’m thinking `What’s that horrible music in the background? And who started all of this?’

Lollipops with musical notes on them float above my head. I’m sitting in a puddle of I don’t know and I don’t know why when here comes the Danger Clown swinging across the floor toward Godiva who stands impassively and doesn’t even shake her head when he shimmies up to her.

There seems no really controlling any of this.

If anyone could see me I would feel unwelcome here. I’d feel like a complete creep. Confetti leaves of artificial trees dance down delicately between me and the world. Another porcupine boy, all hands and eyes on stilt legs, asks the chair beside me to dance. She smiles and shakes her head. He says, “But you need to. We have to get out of here” and she shrugs and takes his hand. He yanks her to her feet and pulls her from the room. Everyone is still banging into each other wide-eyed. It’s not so much a dance as a collision. My mushroom silence strands me safely. The band plays as the room rises and falls.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Battle of Gaixia: A Love Story

Few people in the west know about The Battle of Gaixia (also known as Kai-Hsia, 202 BCE) but it is one of the most famous battles in ancient Chinese history. The major antagonists were Liu-Bang of the Han and Xiang-Yu of the Chu but an integral part of the story is the love affair between Xiang-Yu and the Consort Yuji; a relationship which brought the antagonists to the Canyon of Gaixia.

My article on the battle, in Ancient History Encyclopedia, can be found here:

The article begins:

The Battle of Gaixia (202 BCE, also known as Kai-Hsia) was the decisive engagement of the Chu-Han Contention (206-202 BCE) at which Liu-Bang, King of Han, defeated King Xiang-Yu of Chu to found the Han Dynasty. After the Death of Shi Huangti, the first Emperor of a united China, his son Qin Er Shi took the throne and ruled so poorly that the country erupted in rebellion. Shi Huangti (formerly Ying Zheng of the state of Qin) had conquered the warring states of Chu, Han, Qi, Wei, Yan and Zhao to found the Qin Dynasty and ruled his Empire rigorously. Qin Er Shi, who was ill-equipped to follow his father, was assassinated after three years and his nephew, equally inept, ascended the throne. During the years between Shi Huangti’s death (210 BCE) and 206 BCE, the former subject states battled the toppling Qin regime, and sometimes each other, for supremacy. After the final defeat of the Qin army, two generals emerged victorious: Liu-Bang of the state of Han and Xiang-Yu of the state of Chu.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Return of Rose White: A Ghost Story

When Madame Veneris is forced to conduct a seance in a cemetery she's worried about who may show up from the other side. In calling on the spirit of Rose White she finds her concerns were justified beyond her worst fears.

My short story `The Return of Rose White' published today in London's Litro Magazine. The link to the story is here:

The story begins:

When Madame Veneris reached the cemetery, the first thing she did, after getting out of her car and setting down the blue blanket and candle, was to pull up the robe at her wrist and turn on the small black device there.

"Where are you located?" she said into it.

"Turn around and look to your left. I'm behind the tree near the angel."