Morte di Giulio Cesare by Vicenzo Camuccini

Rome did not need a Caesar.

I am referring to the one and only Gaius Julius Caesar. The dictator has a strong influence and changed the history of the world. Without him Rome would not be the same. Thanks to him, the empire expanded their territory and supremacy across Western Europe, Asia, and North Africa on 50 BC. Rome was the greatest empire in the world at that time.

Nevertheless, Caesar was betrayed. Stabbed by a knife 23 times by his own followers, he met his death.

What happened when a country raised a supreme controller? A leaders or dictator? What was going on when an institution has a person who can not and will not accept a questions? I believe every one wants a leader. Someone who has an authority and could do something mandatory.

Yet, people tend to hate their leader. They might say they love the ‘dictator’, but it is only on the surface. They are going to put smile on their faces, while they curse the tyrant with hatred. A mask will put whenever he was around.

I hate hypocrisy. I hate pretension. But what I hate most is the fact that I am so good at pretending. Hence, I am a hypocrite who hates one.

A grandeur empire, large by its name, majestic by its history, has its emperor. I am the one whose tongue going to lick them, whose face is going to put the best smile ever, whose heart is always be disturbed.

Rome might not need Caesar. He was stabbed until he met his maker. It was ironic, because as the death of Caesar, Rome is not going to be the same ever again. There comes the day of another Caesars. Rome turned to be an Empire for good, for they killed their ‘democracy’ eras.

I also do not need any Caesars. Yet I do not have any courage to stab them.

His Darkest Hour

Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1925-2006)
Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1925-2006)

Every Indonesian must read these books.

You  must have known Pramoedya Ananta Toer. He was, in my opinion, one of the best writer in the world. I’m not exaggerating here, and I do think everyone should read his works. Well, I think everyone should try to.

This is why I think the guy is a genius.

When I was a little kid, I already know that my country – Indonesia – is a country that had been colonized by the Dutch about three and a half centuries. I knew it from the history school books, and I have a sympathetic feeling for my beloved Indonesia. But that is it. It just a sympathy. Not that I say that being sympathetic is wrong, but it’s not enough. We are living in a country that already free from colonization. Some of us are never experiencing how is it feel to be a slave in your own land (and thanks to God that we didn’t experience it), but do you think that we still care?

The last question lead us to the reason why I think Pramoedya is a genius.

It was him who made me realized how the world blinded us all, how the so called democracy and freedom made us to be ignorant and careless. Please do not take it wrong, for I do think that democracy and freedom are everything that people needs in this modern times. But it turned out that I – and the majority of generation who were born in 1970-2000 – are forgetting the fact that our nation used to live in a very, very, difficult times and it is part of our job to fix it.

Pramoedya made it simple with his books, Kuartet Pulau Buru (The Pulau Buru Quartet).

The Pulau Buru Quartet are a Tetralogy, a work that made up four distinct books. The Earth of Mankind, Child of All Nations, Footsteps, and Glass House. They are recognized as the most powerful works of literature in the 20th century.

The Pulau Buru Quartet told us about a boy whose name is Minke (Raden Mas Tirto Adi Suryo), who struggled in the time when the Dutch still grabs her unlimited power over Indonesia (whose name was The Dutch Indies at that time) circa 19th century. Minke is a Javanese boy, a descendant of Javanese aristocrat, thus make him an aristocrat as well. This aristocrat status that Minke held, make him familiar with the Dutch education and lifestyle. Familiar he is with the Dutch education, makes him depressed and confused whenever he faces his own people, the Javanese.

Pramoedya describes Minke’s journey and thinking in the most beautiful way possible. Minke is the Javanese who must face the bitter and cruel form of colonialism, while he still see and experience the Javanese culture (which in Pramoedya’s mind, already loses almost everything). The Javanese were already meet their dusk when the modern ideas finally reached Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). It was their dark ages, their darkest hour. It is surprising – well, maybe shocking – when we read the Tetralogy and realize how deep our civilization had fallen.

Pramoedya wake us up in his simple, humble way. His books, including Pulau Buru Quartet, were banned in the New Order Era (1968-1998). Some people had an argument that his books are very provocative and Left. Therefore his books should not be read with Indonesian. Well, such argument is nonsense, since his books are very enlighten and will boost your nationalism to its highest peak. I don’t know the reason why his books should be banned. It’s a relieve that the Reformation Era were allowing the publisher to distribute his works, and we could read and discuss his ideas again.

Pramoedya wrote Pulau Buru Quartet when the New Order Government were sending him to Buru Island. He was imprisoned without trial process, thus made him an exile for 10 years (1969-1979). It was in these darkest hour that Pramodeya tried to write Pulau Buru Quartet. Although the government forbid him to write, he chose the oral way to tell his stories, memorize it, and then write it later secretly.  His effort and dedication is amazing, and it is him who opened my eyes to see what actually happened with my people, what went wrong.

Every Indonesian should read his books, and we will fix and build together what had been broken and scattered all over places.

The Eastern Rome

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia

There are some places that fascinate you, even though you haven’t got there.

Like I had mention on my earlier post, The Turkish Knight, I have a ‘fetishism’ on Mediterranean and Arab world. They are a part of the world that always haunted my mind, make me keep wondering and thinking about anything related to them. They are one of the oldest and earliest people who brought the first civilization on earth. The first cities that came in the middle of the desert, and so we all knew Mesopotamia. The people whose life and architecture depends on the Nile river water; The Egyptian. The culture that understand how is it to be ‘beautiful’ and reflected it in almost all of their work and craft; The Greeks. The kingdom whose territory and military are mightier than any of the modern nation nowadays; The Persian.

Mediterranean and Middle-East are the highest peak of an ancient civilization, alongside with India and China in the east. The world ‘ancient’ is used here, because they are considered as something that belong to the past. Their civilization used to be very sophisticated that we won’t find any other cities in the other part of the world which we could compare to them.

Egyptian, Greeks, Persians, Syrians, and Jews are already on top when the world was young. It was  centuries later when Romans and Arabs took over the torch of the ‘old world’ from them.

There is one empire which I always forgot whenever I recalled them in my head. Simply because they tend to be left. It was The Byzantine Empire.

The Byzantines – in the medieval times – are the Catholic Greece, or like we all know now; The Catholic Orthodox Greece. It was the only European empire that survive in the medieval era, the era when western look up upon the Arabs world. It was the time when Baghdad rules the old world, and most of the European still living illiterate inside their castle.

The Byzantine were the brightest light that shines in the entire Europe. One of the reason why they were considered the brightest, simply because the other European still live in the Dark Ages. They were famous with their intricate and beautiful mosaic, the dome construction, the grandeur churches (they built the Hagia Sophia, the church that converted into mosque when the Turks conquest the main city).

Byzantine Floor Mosaic
Byzantine Floor Mosaic

The Byzantium city was founded in 667 BC. It was an ancient Greek city, named after its first king Byzas. In a 4th century, when the Rome became too big to handle, it divided themselves into two kingdoms: The West Rome and The Eastern Rome. The West Rome was covering all of the old Rome and the rest of the Europe, while The Eastern Rome was covering the eastern part i.e. Greece, Upper Egypt, and spot that called Anatolia, or nowadays as we all know became Turkey. The Eastern Rome was conceived in 322 AD by Constantinople, who became  its Caesar, and so the Byzantines took his name for their capital city.

The Eastern Rome is dominated by Greeks. They talks in Greeks, read and write in Greeks, and they found their own catholic Greek version, a.k.a The Greek Catholic Orthodox. Some scholars speculate that this Greek Catholic Ortodoxy made the other European historian seems to ignore this people, because this Greek Catholic is considered as a ‘different version of Christianity’, a reason that seems bizarre to me.

The Byzantine is the only empire that imported silk from China, and made their own silk factory, thus make them the only silk distributors in the western world. These uniqueness and their ‘other’ kind of religion made them different from their neighbors. When the mighty Rome meets its end, the Byzantine stood still, and from that day, they become the only western civilization in the world… until the Turks conquered it in the 15th century.

The Ottoman Turks haunted Byzantine because they share borders. The other thing is because Byzantine is the only Catholic empire that survive when Muslim rules the world. They were not live in an era that would support them. Their big brother in the west (Rome) were already fallen, their ancient ancestors (Ancient Greek) were not powerful anymore. The Byzantine used to seek help to the ‘neutrals’ like Mongols, but it won’t make any big difference.  After the long, tiresome battle, the Byzantine finally fell in 1453. Their fort wall can’t stand the Turks army. The Turks invaded the city, converted Hagia Sophia into mosque, and change the name of the capital city Constantinople, to Istanbul.

It was how Byzantine ended. And it was when the Turkey problems for their identity begins, or maybe, increased. Turkey found its place in Europe ever since, and fight it inside their own world.

Notes: Big thanks to Larry Gonick who retell this complicated Byzantine history to be much simpler.

Who’s To Blame?

The Mongols in Baghdad
The Mongols in Baghdad

One of the most beautiful city in the post-ancient world, was attacked and burned in 1258. Baghdad was the center of the civilization. It has the biggest library at that time. It was a center of astronomy, mathematics, biology, and also medical. Baghdad was demolished by the Mongols led by Hulagu Khan. The Mongols were not only destroying the main city, but also killed the children and raped the woman, burned the library and threw away its books to the Tigris river, killed the Sultan and his entire family. The Battle of Baghdad is considered as the greatest massacre in the post-ancient world.

It was a big loss for civilization. Baghdad had never been recovered ever since. The world lost one of its most sophisticated city, the Muslim lost their literature and cultural reference. There were almost nothing left to be saved back then. Even the Abassid dynasty were extinct. After the attack, Baghdad try to crawl back again into the light, but it just too late. The damage was too great for them to recover.

743 years later in Afghanistan, in the Bamyan cliff, Taliban were destroying the biggest statue of Buddha in the world. The statue of Buddha of Bamyan was considered as the culmination art of the ancient Ghandara kingdom that rule Afghanistan and part of Pakistan area in the 3th century. The Buddha statues were crafted inside the cliff. Some scientist explained that Bamyan used to be an important part of Silk Road back then. It was a caravan route linking from The Kingdom of China to The Roman Empire.

The Bamyan Buddha
The Bamyan Buddha

The world curses Taliban when they annihilated the Buddha statues of Bamyan. It must be devastating as well when we lived at the 13th century, and heard the news about Baghdad. Baghdad and its doctors, Baghdad and its poets and artists. Larry Gonick said in his books, that the Mongols killed almost all of Baghdad’s artists and doctors.

The action and brutality are… weird to me. Why is it with people and their act of destruction? The Mongols are taking almost nothing when they attacked Baghdad. They just destroyed it. Simply burn almost all of the building to the ground. The idea seems to be weirder to me when I keep thinking about it. But it might be understandable if we see the Mongols as a nomads. Nomads tend to destroy their enemy without knowing why do they have to preserve – or at least try not to destroy the building or burn the book – any cultural thing they find. It was natural for them to destroy anything alive, or anything interesting.

The Buddha statues of Bamyan is on the restoration process right now, thanks to God. Since the Taliban left, the Afghanistan government with UNESCO are trying hard to put the Buddha on his place. Hard work is needed, of course, but it is a fantastic news for all of us in the world.

I’m against a destruction on a cultural heritage (just like all of you I believe). But sometimes it came across my mind: Is the destruction is actually part of civilization itself? We tend to think about how culture and civilization is something that build. But is it possible that civilization is not only about how it build, but also about how it destroyed?

Quoting from the great Indians : everything that build must be destroyed, when something starts it will meet its end. I’m not saying that every destructive activity is acceptable. I’m saying that it’s only a matter of time that Baghdad would meet its end. It’s only the matter of time that the brightest light in the post-ancient world will die. I’m lucky for not seeing that happened.

The empty cliff
The empty cliff