Poetry Corner: the Song of Moses & Miriam

The Crossing of the Red Sea, Nicolas Poussin, 1634

The Crossing of the Red Sea, Nicolas Poussin, 1634

In honor of Passover, a song of praise from Exodus 15:1-19 ~

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:

“I will sing to the Lord,
    for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
    he has hurled into the sea.

“The Lord is my strength and my defense;
    he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
    my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior;
    the Lord is his name.
Pharaoh’s chariots and his army
    he has hurled into the sea.
The best of Pharaoh’s officers
    are drowned in the Red Sea.
The deep waters have covered them;
    they sank to the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, Lord,
    was majestic in power.
Your right hand, Lord,
    shattered the enemy.

“In the greatness of your majesty
    you threw down those who opposed you.
You unleashed your burning anger;
    it consumed them like stubble.
By the blast of your nostrils
    the waters piled up.
The surging waters stood up like a wall;
    the deep waters congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy boasted,
    ‘I will pursue, I will overtake them.
I will divide the spoils;
    I will gorge myself on them.
I will draw my sword
    and my hand will destroy them.’
10 But you blew with your breath,
    and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead
    in the mighty waters.
11 Who among the gods
    is like you, Lord?
Who is like you—
    majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
    working wonders?

12 “You stretch out your right hand,
    and the earth swallows your enemies.
13 In your unfailing love you will lead
    the people you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them
    to your holy dwelling.
14 The nations will hear and tremble;
    anguish will grip the people of Philistia.
15 The chiefs of Edom will be terrified,
    the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling,
the people of Canaan will melt away;
16  terror and dread will fall on them.
By the power of your arm
    they will be as still as a stone —
until your people pass by, Lord,
    until the people you bought pass by.
17 You will bring them in and plant them
    on the mountain of your inheritance —
the place, Lord, you made for your dwelling,
    the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established.

18 “The Lord reigns
    for ever and ever.”

19 When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground.

Exodus 15:1-19
New International Version

A Solar Eclipse of Peace


Today at Ya’lla Tours HQ in Portland, Oregon, we have just come in from viewing the solar eclipse. It was awesome! Just north of the path of totality, we saw the sun 99% covered.

Some 2500 years ago, the Greek philosopher/scientist Thales of Miletus was the first person ever to predict an eclipse, according to the ancient historian Herodotus. If this is true, it’s a mystery how the prediction was made, as it was another 200 years before the Greeks understood what causes solar eclipses, the moon passing between the earth and the sun.

Legend tells that the Eclipse of Thales occurred during a battle in a long running war between the Medes and the Lydians near the Halys River in what is now Anatolian Turkey. Taking the eclipse as an admonition by the gods, the combatants dropped their weapons and called a truce. Both sides accepted the Halys River as the border between their lands and peace ensued. Based on modern scientific dating, that eclipse, and hence the battle, happened in 585 BCE.

Talos: Mythical Droid of Crete

This 5th-century BCE Greek vase depicts the death of Talos at the hands of Medea and the Argonauts. The artist is known only as the Talos Painter.

This 5th-century BCE Greek vase depicts the death of Talos at the hands of Medea and the Argonauts. The artist is known only as the Talos Painter.

Talos was a giant bronze man, the Cretan sun god and general guardian of the island. There are many conflicting stories about his genesis, purpose and death, but his role as protector of Crete is a common thread. Zeus and Hephaestus (the god of the forge) are variously named as his creator.

Talos circled the entire island 3 times each day (to account for this, some ancient depictions show him with wings) and lobbed boulders at unauthorized ships that approached the island. Any invader who reached the shore would die a hideous death in his hot-metal embrace.

Talos had one vulnerability – a plug on his ankle, which contained the molten-metal life-blood coursing through a single artery. When Jason and his Argonauts attempted to land on Crete to resupply after their Golden Fleece adventure, they were held off by a barrage of rock-missiles. Fortunately, for the Argonauts, Jason’s wife, the sorceress Medea, was also on board. She cast a spell on Talos, which caused him to remove the plug from his ankle and “bleed” to death.

Some scholars suggest the story represents the cultural, political and technological transition from the Bronze Age and the power of Minoan Crete, which collapsed around 1100 BCE, to the rise of Proto-Greek groups, which invaded Greece in waves across the millennium prior to the fall of Minoan Crete.

A Halcyon Solstice

Kingfisher, Allen W. Seaby, 1929

Kingfisher, Allen W. Seaby, 1929

Alcyone, daughter of the keeper of the Wind, was married to Ceyx, son of the morning star. They were very much in love and totally devoted to each other, yet Alcyone’s love was powerless to relieve the suffering of her husband over the loss of his brother.

Even from the depths of despair, Ceyx knew it was time to get on with his life and he thought his best hope was a consultation with the oracle of Apollo at Claros. This required a sea journey, which, being daughter of the Wind, Alcyone knew to be perilous, especially in Winter, which it was. She pleaded with her husband not to go to no avail. Continue reading

Aesop’s Fables: The Camel & The Arab and Belling The Cat

A fable is a brief story ending in a lesson or moral, often involving anthropomorphic animals. Aesop’s Fables are attributed to a slave who lived in Greece in the 6th century BCE. Whether he actually wrote all the fables is a matter of debate. Whether he was an actual person is also a matter of debate. Regardless of their source, they have been spreading common sense around the globe for millennia. Here are two:

An Arab merchant was preparing to set out across a vast desert with a large inventory of precious goods. After loading his great bulging bundles on the back of his weary camel, he asked which way the animal would prefer to go, up hill or down hill?
The camel replied, “Why do you ask? Is the level road through the desert closed?”
The moral to this story is: Don’t ask obvious questions.

The Mice convened a Great Council meeting to discuss how to combat their mortal enemy the Cat. An eager young mouse, attending his first Great Council came forth with a proposal. “Our enemy’s main advantage is her stealth. If we had some warning of her approach, our chances of escape would be very high. I know of a small bell that could be easily detached from the Child’s toy. If we hang that bell around the Cat’s neck on a ribbon, she will not be able to sneak up on us anymore.” An excited murmur spread through the council chamber, heads nodded and whiskers twitched with favorable interest. The smart, young mouse swelled with pride. Then a wise, old mouse raised his hand. When the room was quiet and all attention turned his way, the old mouse said, “Who will attach the bell to the Cat?” Now, this was a community of hard-working, respectable mice, but none were heroes. They took a moment to mourn their fleeting moment of hope and then began again to brainstorm anti-Cat tactics.
The moral to this story is: Impossible solutions are easy to propose.


Perseus with the head of Medusa, Benvenuto Cellini, 1554

Perseus with the head of Medusa, Benvenuto Cellini, 1554

Having just passed through the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower, I thought it appropriate to write a bit about the Greek Hero Perseus. The meteor shower is the result of debris trailing behind the Swift-Tuttle comet. Each year at this time, Earth passes through the comet’s debris field, which appears to originate in the Perseus constellation, hence the name Perseid, which means son of Perseus. Continue reading

How the Hodja Saved Allah: a Turkish Folktale

One day, a wise old Hodja (teacher, scholar) in Istanbul was leading his young students as they committed a passage of the Koran to memory. The Hodja himself knew the sacred book backwards and forwards. So many years had he taught it, he could recite it in his sleep without a single error. Although he had recited and listened to that day’s passage countless times before, this time he was seized by the message like never before: “Those who spend their money in the service of God are like a kernel of corn, from which grow seven ears, each containing one hundred kernels. God bestows manifold gifts on whom he pleases.” As he spoke the words, a brilliant light switched on in the mind of the Hodja and he knew he would be secure in his retirement.

He sent his students home for the day and proceeded to count his life savings. Careful figuring based on the compound appreciation promised in the verse would result in a payout of 1,000 piastres, a fortune! The Hodja immediately went into the streets, handing a few coins to each needy soul he encountered, until every last cent was gone. He was flat broke but thought himself a rich man, certain that 1,000 piastres were already on the way. Having helped a good number of destitute neighbors felt pretty good too.

That night, he was grateful for his simple dinner of bread and olives, but found himself dreaming about the occasional roast he would enjoy with his pending wealth. The next day, he had only bread to fill his stomach, and still no 1,000 piastres, but he did not despair.

On the third day, there was still no money and his cupboards were bare. Hungry and weak, his faith tested, he walked into the open fields beyond the city walls, reached to the sky and beseeched the Lord to take pity on His good servant. He cried and moaned and shook his fists.He was preparing to throw himself to the ground and wallow when a fearsome howl stopped him cold.

It was the voice of a certain wandering Sufi monk, who was quite out of his mind and terrorizing the area. Normally, wandering Sufi monks were welcome guests. This one was unpredictable, even violent, and from the sound of it, he was just over the horizon, and heading toward the Hodja. With surprising speed and agility, considering his advanced age, the Hodja climbed high up into a tree, there being nowhere else to hide.

The crazy monk came right up to the tree and sat down beneath it. He was wailing and lamenting, not only for himself but for the whole world. He cried out to God, “Why is there so much pain in the world? What’s the point? Why was I born? Why was anyone born only to suffer and die? Why?? Why?!! All my life, I have prayed for relief but to no avail. Now, I know what I must do to avenge the misery of mankind!”

He reached into a leather pouch at his side and pulled out a small figure, which he addressed as Job. He said, “down through the ages, you have been held up as a great example of patience and faith. In your name we are taught that forbearance brings reward. But this is not true. Many suffer with no end. I will punish you now for your bad counsel.” With his sword, the monk cut off the head of the figure he called Job.

Then he took another figure from his bag. This one he called David. To David he said, “you wrote songs of peace and love, but lived a sinful life. For misleading mankind with your pretty words, I will punish you.” And he cut off the head of the David figure.

The third figure to come out of the bag represented Solomon. The monk said, “Solomon, for centuries, you have been revered for your wisdom and vast knowledge, but you were not always wise. You did some bad things that brought suffering to countless many. I shall cut off your head.” And he did.

Next, the monk pulled a figure from his bag which he called Jesus. “Jesus, you came into the world, suffered and gave your own life so that mankind would know peace. You were a great prophet, yet the church founded in your name brought war after war. All that misery must be avenged.” Off came the head of the figure called Jesus.

The next figure from the bag was Mohammed. The monk said, “Mohammed, like Jesus, you were a great prophet, but so many suffered and died the world over in your name, you also must be punished.” Off came the head of the Mohammed figure.

Then the monk touched his forehead to the ground and stayed there in silence for several minutes. When he rose, he brought another figure from the bag. “Allah, you are all powerful. Mankind is your creation, all the good and all the evil in the world ultimately comes from you. I cannot punish your prophets and not also punish you.” As he raised his sword to chop of this final Ultimate Head, a shout came from the tree above, “STOP! He owes me 1,000 piastres!”

The monk was so startled, he dropped to the ground in a dead heap. The Hodja sat motionless in the tree for a good 30 minutes but the monk did not stir. The Hodja tossed a few twigs down at the monk and got no response. He climbed down from the tree and checked for a heartbeat. Sure enough, the monk was dead.

When he put the Allah figure safely back into the monk’s pouch, he discovered that it was full of gold. He poured the coins on the ground and counted out exactly 1,000 piastres. He looked toward Heaven and said, “Allah, I never doubted you would keep your promise, but,” he added, “not before I saved your life.”