The Ship of Fools

Towards the end of this hard-hitting political and historical review, BCiP member Monique Riccardi-Cubitt also accuses Europe in general of the Folly of creating a Union but refusing its Consequences.

THE SHIP OF FOOLS
TERRORIST ATTACKS, PARIS JANUARY 7th, NOVEMBER 13th 2015, BRUSSELS MARCH 22nd 2016.
HIERONYMUS BOSCH EXHIBITION, VISIONS OF GENIUS.
500th anniversairy, Noordbrabants Museum, s’-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, February 13th – May 8th 2016

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The Ship of Fools c. 1500-5, Louvre, Paris

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L’Homo viator, The Wayfarer, recto shutter
The Haywain c.1500-2, Prado, Madrid

No, Europe and France are not at war, Messrs Hollande, Valls and company. War is in Palestine where Israël, with American lobbies’ financial support, encourages American settlers to create apartheid on the Palestianians’ ancestral land in persecuting and eliminating the natives. War is in Syria where an organized genocide is taking place since 2011, with no attempt whatsoever from Europe and the international community to stop the systematic slaughter of the population. War is in Iraq with Daesh, thanks to the American attack in 2003, supported by Tony Blair, devastating and forever destabilizing the region. War is in Libya where Daesh rules also, thanks to the intervention of Nicolas Sarkozy, Blair’s clone. He wanted to hurry the disappearance of the benefactor who, although he had contributed to his election campaign in 2007 and was received in great pomp in Paris, had become an embarrassing witness to eliminate. War is in Turkey where the Kurds are being massacred without any reactions from Europe and NATO. This new ally is being handsomely rewarded to get rid of the cumbersome problem of the migrants.

Gone are the high-minded principles of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, or those of Human Rights. Hordes of refugees are driven to exile to flee the horrors of systematic political and ethnic cleansing, persecution of all kinds, squalor, famine and epidemics, bombs destroying their houses, their lives, their land, forever polluting it with noxious remains, poisonning earth, air and water. They are no longer welcomed as asylum seekers in dire circumstances, but as barbarians invading Europe to spread Islam.

Five hundred years ago Europe saw the migration of another Oriental people. The Gypsies, Bohemians or Tsiganes took their name from the various countries they had crossed during their migration from India. They looked strange and exotic in their vividly colourful costumes. They were heirs to ancient knowledge and wisdom, living in harmony with nature in their worship of the Mother Goddess, Kali the Dark One. The Sunnite Sultan Mahmoud of Ghazni had deported them during seventeen ramsacking campaigns from 1001 to 1026. Mahmoud had vowed to plunder India once a year, and to recite a Sura from the Koran after each destruction of a temple. In 1018 he sacked the cities of Mathurà and Kannauj and deported the latter’s population. His private secretary, Abu Naser al’Ubti, wrote in the Kitab-I-Yamini manuscrit : 53 000 men, women and children, of clear and dark complexions, by entire families. The Sultan used them to rebuild and embellish his mountain stronghold at Ghazni, in modern Afghanistan, where he had built the largest mosque of the time. Professional soldiers entered his service and fought for him until his death in 1030, following which they roamed the Near and Middle East, hiring themselves to the local Persian and Turkish tribes as non-free soldiers, or ghulams. Some of them settled in Asia Minor, others entered the service of the Turkish Seldjoukids, and freed Jerusalem from the Egyptian Fatimids, starting the First Crusade in 1095. The Gypsy warriors, also called Al-Ghulamis, in latin Angulani, are mentioned in the Gesta Francorum as polytheistic Sarrasins. After the Turkish armies’ defeat, they fought against the Crusaders on the Egyptians’ side. The spread of the Ottoman Empire in Asia Minor in the 14th century forced a massive Gypsy exodus towards Western Europe. At the end of the 14th century their presence is mentioned in the Byzantine Empire, in Crete, in Serbia, in Romania. At the beginning of the 15th century, they are found in Germany, Hungary, and Switzerland. In Italy the first Zingari arrived in 1392, following the Kosovo battle between the Ottomans and the Christian Serbs, who were defeated..

In Europe the Gypsies’ arrival aroused local curiosity wherever they went and settled. Their alluring exoticism in customs and costume, their freedom of movement, their divining gifts and magical powers, attracted all attention. They expressed their vital energy and joie-de-vivre through singing, music and above all in dancing. Dancing is for the Hindus the highest and noblest expression of divine worship, in emulation of Shiva Nataraja, Lord of the Dance, whose cult unites all in India. The Gypsies’ participation in the First Crusade had created a bond with the European nobility. They shared with them the love of horses, the experience of the Orient, freedom of thought and movement and chivalric ideals. The Gypsies enjoyed aristocratic military patronage as mercenaries, despite the numerous decrees from absolutist States, in time denying them entry. Yet Gypsy culture has strongly influenced and revitalized European artistic creativity, not only in dance and music, but also in poetry, literature and painting. At the end of the Middle Ages in Europe, the ethos of the Bohemian is assimilated to the Oriental traditions of the minstrels’ courtly love, the Fedeli d’amore’s exalted feminine figure in Dante and Petrarch’s poetry, and Neoplatonic theories, and elevated to an archetype. In Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych in the Prado, The Haywain, c.1501, the Bohemian women, with their caracteristic high conical hats stand for a way of life detached from wordly possessions. The roaming Bohemian becomes the symbol of mankind engaged in the spiritual quest for Truth and Knowledge, as indicated by the recto of the outside shutters entitled The Path of Life, the key to the triptych’s allegory. It is the Homo viator described in the two poems of the French 14th century Cistercian monk, Guillaume de Deguileville, prior of the Chaalis abbey : The Pilgrimage of Human Life and The Pilgrimage of the Soul, the latter being published in Flemish in1486.

The 22nd card of the Tarot - an initiatory game from the Middle East introduced to France via Italy - uses this image. It is the major trump card, its lucky number stands for the accomplished human being in time and space. This arcana is unnumbered as subjected to human freewill, it is the Fool, The Mat, an Arab word meaning death, or the self-denial inherent to spiritual illumination. The Fool wears minstrel’s clothes, he is a traveller on life’s path, walking to the fulfilment of his destiny. He always carries the pilgrim’s staff and is accompanied by a dog, symbol of loyalty and fidelity to his own chosen path. Thus he is shown on the Mat Tarot card and in Bosch’s depictions called erroneously The Beggar or The Peddler, a third version appears on a tondo in the Museum Boijmans - Van Beuningen in Rotterdam.

This Homo viator, Traveller or Holy Beggar, in the Sufi sense of the word, is seeking spiritual illumination. He will be granted it in begging his way on life’s path to people less evolved than himself, who will themselves rise in stature according to the secret alchemy of human interactive bonds. He is also represented in grisaille on the recto of another Bosch’s triptych, The Ship of Fools, in the Louvre. Initially it formed one panel witht the Allegory of Lust and Debauchery in the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, from which he has been cut off. It was the pendant to the Death of the Miser panel in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The other three Deadly sins : Wrath, Hubristic Pride and Sloth, or spiritual, moral and physical apathy, would have appeared in the now missing central panel.

The Ship of Fools ‘s theme and iconography takes on the allegory of the Strasbourg humanist Sébastien Brandt ‘s famous satirical poem, published in German in Basle in 1494. The volume is illustrated with woodcuts attributed to the youngAlbrecht Dürer, Hieronymus Bosch’s ship is similar to the frontispiece. This sharp satire of human folly depicted through contemporary European Renaissance society enjoyed an immediate popular success. As a result is was first translated in latin, the lingua franca of the time, in 1497, then in all other European languages : in Flemish at s’-Hertogenbosch in 1500, in English by Robert Barclay in 1509. The trope, or allegory, describing a ship without pilot, taken over by maddened giddy passengers, without sense nor discrimination, thoughtless and irresponsible in their actions, leading the ship to be wrecked, was common at the time. It goes back to Plato’s Republic, chapter VI, a satire on the art of governing countries and men.

Five hundred years later human condition has remained the same. The same politico-religious conflicts inflame and destroy whole countries, scattering away populations on land and sea, creating the same hatred, the same misery, the same despair. Or should one say that human folly has worsened ? Nowadays no one ventures to publically denounce it any longer, yet it is not one country, one region, one continent, that are threatened, but the whole planet, in the blind suicidal race to the gratification of materialism and consumerism, power and greed’s selfish needs. The spirituality of the medieval and Renaissance humanists, poets and artists does not exist any longer, the cult of Mammon has replaced it. Like many notables of his time, Bosch belonged to a brotherhood, The Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady, dedicated to the Virgin. It was altogether an honour and a civic duty. The members were bound to support financially the charitable actions they also had to perform, according to the Seven Acts of Mercy, as stated in St. Matthew’s gospel : To feed the Hungry, to give drink to the Thirsty, to clothe the Naked, to shelter the Homeless, to visit the Sick, to visit the Imprisoned, to bury the Dead. Bosch’s works, like Brandt’s Ship of Fools, is satirical and didactic, aiming to make men conscious of their own folly in ignoring the results of their spinelessness and weaknesses, their excesses, their vices and dishonourable behaviour. To see in them solely an expression of the fantastic and surrealism, in the modern materialistic atheist point of view, is to betray the serious intent of the artists and poets’message and mission. This intellectual appraisal bears no relation to the exalted ethos of the Middle Ages and of the Renaissance, their gaiety and sense of mockery. These images draw their power of evocation from an exhilarating vital force, an irrepressible joie-de-vivre, encompassing the whole spectrum of human experience, even in its darker aspects, as can be seen in the art of the cathedrals and of miniatures. Popular festive events and Carnivals, when the Fool became King and ruled for one day, were iniatory moments of the exorcism of human folly, echoing the didactic role of psychic release of the antique Greek theatre. Modern man’s sick soul, bogged down in matter and possessions, self-obsessed, dismantled by psychoanalysis, without altruism and joie-de-vivre, could draw from it all some salutary lessons.

Most particularly the ex-French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, who speaks of Christian values in interviews given on the Radio Notre Dame network or to the Catholic newspaper La Croix, after visiting the Pope with a delegation, his wife and his son at his heels. He wants to gain the French Catholics’s vote in his party’s primary elections to be able to stand for the Presidency, which he has so abused in the past, in the next 2017 elections. Among the Human Follies of Brandt’s Ship of Fools, in Robert Barclay’s translation, he would do well to meditate on Folio 111, Of the ende of worldly honour and power and of folys that trust therin. It shows donkeys tied up to a wheel, the Wheel of Fortune, which always ends up by turning. One teaches and rules by being an examplary model, but it seems that the so-called ruling elites care little about this duty of theirs. To be credible Sarkozy should have taken the opportunity of being in Rome for the Holy Week and go up the Scala Santa, not once, but several times, to expiate his numerous turpitudes and his government’s corruption, the destruction of Lybia and all the human misery he has altogether created. To show his real Christian values, he should have paid a visit to the refugees’camp on the island of Lampedusa. There he and his wife could have witnessed at first hand the distress of those who had to flee from the catastrophic results of Western political intervention in the Near and the Middle East, and the human suffering to which he has so greatly contributed by action and by omission. Having braved the seas, those refugees are parked in makeshift camps and survive on the locals’ charity. He could then have made a gesture towards those he is morally responsible in their misfortune. It would have been a salutary lesson in Christian charity to his spoilt, arms-loving son, and vain, superficial and frivolous wife. Only concerned with appearances, at this first visit to the Vatican, she must certainly have exclaimed in forced astonishment, as she did at the official dinner in St. George’s Hall at Windsor Castle : WOW !

A contemporary Ship of Fools would be thus declined :

For the French President François Hollande, aping François Mitterand’s stiff, rigid, starchy and falsely dignified image in his duplicity, and Nicolas Sarkozy’s superficial and ineffective hyperactivity: Of the Folly of imitating one’s Predecessors and blindly repeating their Folly.

On his dithering, contradictory, incoherent government’s policy: Of the Folly of ruling a Country without Vision and Direction

For his reactive armed policy towards Daesh, thus endowing it with an official status and exposing France to reprisals, and with the Prime Minister Manuel Valls, for an abusive policy towards French citizens’s individual freedom in the repression of terrorism: Of the Folly of reacting vith Violence in Dangerous Situations in order to show-off one’s Power, and to make the Consequences worse.

For his triumphalism after Salah Abdeslam’s arrest in Belgique, who had participated in the attack at the Palais des Sports in Novembre 2016, provoking as a result the Brussels attack : Of the Folly of Boasting too Soon and too Loudly of precarious Victories, and to Sink as result.

For failing to have the French Constitution reviewed to include the loss of nationality for terrorists : Of the Folly of submitting unfair botched-up Laws in Emergency without prior Deliberation and Support..

For the French Finance Minister, Michel Sapin, critizing Belgium after the March 22nd Brussels attack « when one sees a district in danger of communitarianism one must act, one must act with a city policy, with an integration policy, with the schools and with the language » : Of the Folly of seeing the Mote in one’s Neighbour’s eye and not the Beam in one’s Own, and to gloat about it.

For the Éducation Nationale in general and its Minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, in particular, for wasting her time in pointless debates on the circumflex accent instead of having civic morals taught in school, the discipline of the French language, the citizens’ identity heritage. The loss of syntax and text analysis, which forms the structure of the French language and of its discursive power has resulted in its continued deterioration. It has now been replaced by an incomprehensible Franglais gibberish : Of the Folly of speaking in Tongues and not the Tongue, of lowering Excellence and building up Mediocrity.
For the Armed Forces General and Police Director, Bertrand Soubelet, who says : « Listen to the young, they respect nothing any longer » : Of the Folly of the Elders to complain about their Juniors to whom they have given a Bad Example.

Thus for the Presidents Sarkozy and Hollande’s bad manners and discourteous behaviour, that is a lack of respect towards others. For the former, the invective Casse toi pov’c…, for failing to reciprocate hospitality according to protocole and invite the Queen to the French Embassy, while on a State visit to London, to send SMS in the Pope’s presence, and for both to sit down before the Pope has done so, and for Hollande, to be the only one not to bow his head in respect during the Rev. Richard Spencer’s prayer for the American soldiers lost during the Second World War, on June 6th 2014, at the American Cemetery at Colleville, and to sit down first while receiving the Queen at the Élysée Palace : Of the Folly of the Frog who wants to be bigger than the Ox. Appearances can be deceiving, when one is born in one’s heart Villein, Villein one remains.

For Nicolas Sarkozy and Bernard Kouchner, in the dismantling of the French Foreign Office : Of the Folly of entrusting unworthy Men with a precious National Heritage.

For Nicolas Sarkozy’s mea culpa in his book : La France pour la vie : Of the Folly of Tartuffe beating his breast while preparing further Tartuffe duperies.
For France on the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan terrorist attacks: Of the Folly of kindling Hatred through Blasphemy and Arrogance.
For the failure of the various French Secret Services to trace presumed terrorists : Of the Folly of a cumbersome and rigid Administration with no efficient Power of Analysis and Dialogue.

For Europe in general : Of the Folly of creating a Union and refusing its Consequences.

For the outrageous media overexposure of private and public life: Of the Folly of propulsing into Light what should remain in the Shadow, that is the most Secret, the most Sacred, the most Precious and should remain so.

Those passengers of The Ship of Fools, blind and uneducated, ignorant of themselves, of others, of their heritage, mad men without a vision of the future, sailing to their own demise, should do well to meditate the first Lauda, Praise, of the 13th century Umbrian franciscan friar, poet and mystic, Jacopone Da Todi: La Prima Lauda del Libro di questa Morte : Armate, omo, che se passa l’ora.

The First Praise of the Book of this Death : To Arms, man, the Hour has come !

Copyright MONIQUE RICCARDI-CUBITT. Paris, March 31st 2016
https://blogs.mediapart.fr/monique-riccardi-cubitt/blog