Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Day to Remember

I’d like to comment upon the number 29. I could have done so for any other month—January 29, April 29 and so on—though September 29, the month and number written together, for reasons I’ll never know, is especially aesthetically pleasing to me. I suspect it’s related to my palatial estate and concomitant country club membership in Twentynine Palms, California.

Significant references to 29 are few and far between, but I did some digging in the archives to see what I could find. The number, as it turns out, was important in the ancient Mycenaean civilization. You’ll probably want to shelve this one in the “stranger than fiction” category. The Mycenaeans had a phrase, “I’m going the 29th,” which meant something like, “I really need to shit, and right now!” According to the legend, Ekelotos, the bastard son of a Greek deity, was doomed to walk from Mycenae to Pylos and back again, repeatedly, until he felt the need for a bowel movement. Taking a dump would be a sign of divine recompense for having eaten the sacred meal at the Oracle of Delphi, a mixture of roasted lamb, feta cheese, and plenty of raisons that the priestesses left on a plate just outside the cave. On the 29th trip to Pylos, between some bushes and upon a makeshift pile of stones, the gods had spoken.

My perusal of the annals of antiquity made me aware of not only a longstanding controversy over the origins of this phrase, but other myths about 29, some more plausible than others. According to the 4th century BCE historian, Polydius the Smaller, who albeit is writing about events that probably transpired eight centuries earlier, the number figures in the Minoan expression, “I got the bowels of Artemus.” Artemus Gorgon was a quasi-mythical king of Crete who allegedly had no less (but no more) than 29 rectums. The description of Artemus sounds suspiciously like that of Aslanotaur whom Thracian poets and sculptors depicted as having the head of a bull, the body of a lion, the tail of a goat, and, again, 29 (presumably human) rectums. The phrase had many uses. If a waiter were to ask: Are you still working on that or do you need a to-go box? The answer would be: I got the bowels of Artemus. Likewise, if someone expressed incredulity: Are you shitting me? You could confirm his suspicion: I got the bowels of Artemus. Sometimes you could use the hallowed phrase as a non sequitur to avoid an awkward situation, and the person would tacitly understand. Listen, I really need to know whether you feel the same way about me as I do about you. Where is our relationship going? The response: I got the bowels of Artemus.

On a side note, scholars have developed theories to account for the uncanny similarities between the Artemus and Aslanotaur myths. Decades ago two schools of thought emerged, one affirming the influence of Minoan culture on Thrace, and the other insisting on the reverse. However, Hellenists today accept the existence of a “Q” tradition (so named for the German Quelle, meaning “source”) which predated both cultures, perhaps originating in Mesopotamia around 3,000 BCE. The Minoans and Thracians had tapped into this earlier epic, appropriating parts of it for their own respective cultures. Thus, the tale of 29 rectums, according to this generally accepted theory, has a venerable history going back to the dawn of civilization. So much for the murky myths about 29; now let me turn to concrete historical events that occurred on this date.

On 29 September 1347 the papal armies had overrun Lombardy only to find a lone Franciscan friar praying inside the citadel of Milan. When the condottieri of the invading troops, Pope Giovanni Bon Jovi IX’s “nephew” Rodrigo il Bastardo, ordered his henchmen to torture the poor old man for information, the latter’s appearance transformed into the Duke of Milan. Fearing the work of the Devil, his tormentors became afraid. “He who touches me or harms anyone in my realm will be castrated and slowly dipped into scalding oil,” proclaimed the duke, as he lifted the cowl to reveal his haughty countenance. Rodrigo scoffed: “You are one man, surrounded by an army. The Duke, I see, has become so drunk with power over the years that madness has crept into his proud heart. And may the Lord forgive your blackened soul for having disobeyed my father….er…I mean…my Holy Father, that is to say, our Holy Father, the Pope, Bishop of Rome, and not my biological father, if that’s what it sounded like.”

While Rodrigo was unsuccessfully covering up his Freudian slip, the duke escaped the clutches of Rodrigo’s retainers, opened up a secret panel, and fled down an underground passageway. Within the hour he ordered an artillery unit stationed in the hills above the cathedral to besiege his own citadel with flaming projectiles. The bombardment became unnecessary after the first round. The west wall had collapsed, exposing the hapless mercenary soldiers to asbestos fibers from the insulation and fireproofing. As the thin fibrous crystals entered their lungs, they fell to the floor writhing in agony. Once this particular charcoal-like asbestos seeped into their bloodstream, it produced grotesque bulges all over their bodies.

I found this variant story of the Black Death the most interesting in my perusal of history, but a few other historical events occurring on September 29 deserve at least brief mention. On this date in 1943, the underground Masonic organization known in Germany as Der göttlicher Gerechtigkeitsverschwörung successfully assassinated Hitler with a gas-filled water balloon and replaced him with a fake Hitler just as dangerous. In 922 BCE, the Hittites conquered both the Hottites and Hattites on the Malarkeian highlands of Anatolia using iron spears and a superior stratagem. Perhaps most intriguing, on the penultimate day of September in the early Tokugawa Era, namely 1621 in the Western calendar, the Japanese macaque monkeys took over the island of Hokkaido and set up a separate kingdom that lasted until 1963. When one of their subjects waded into the hot springs of Nagano to fetch a banana that slipped out of his hands, however, the fate of the Macaque Shogunate took a turn for the worse. The natural Jacuzzi felt so good that the monkey told a friend about it; this friend in turn told a friend and so on. At first the spring galvanized the macaques and made them feel like a million bucks. Meanwhile back in Tokyo, the people of Japan, in alliance with the Ainu, conspired to take advantage of this monkey-see-monkey-do mentality. While the macaques were relaxing in the soothing hot water, they recaptured the island and erected a series of national parks as the ultimate revenge.