SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT & HD Blog 26: "how imperceptibly the grain"

wanted to take this moment to point out a new blogger in blogland: a writer and friend: SETH HARWOOD!!! His blog (which is the first link in my blogroll) also links to his author’s webpage, which has his published short stories that you can read for free, pictures of his cute dog hadley, AND (what i am most excited about) the in progress PODCASTING of his genre novel — i can’t wait to download the chapters to my IPOD — there is a theme song and i think a soundtrack is forthcoming as well.

SO, here’s what i want you to do. Link to his blog from here, go to his webpage…check out the stories…then go back to his blogger blog and leave a comment telling him what you think of the site / stories / PODCASTING, etc. HERE is the important part, IF 30 people comment on his blog and mention my name, I WILL RECEIVE A FREE SET OF STEAK KNIVES!!!

Go send him some blogger love and welcome him to the DIY community (and drop my name);) [do that now and come back]

***

the photo above is by Minor White; here dedicated to Len, who is the second link on the blogroll. He is not new to blogger, but he may be new to you. SO now you MUST check out his blog, he is an amazing poet AND photographer. if he gets 20 comments with my name dropped, I RECEIVE A FREE STEAK!!! [go ahead and go there now, i’ll wait]

***

OTHER BUSINESS: for some reason, some of the pictures from the HD BLOG is disappearing…does anyone know why…i usually just upload the photos from the web, but now i think i should save them onto my hard drive…HELP!

***

Finally, the HD post: one of the most exciting reads yet!!! this post ranks with the post on amber and the one on sapphire…this one is all about the porphyry!!! READ ON and for each comment i will donate $1 to the journal “G=E=O=R=G=E=B=U=S=H”, a new journal of right-wing language-centered poetry!!! peace

***

[28]

O Heart, small urn
of porphyry, agate or cornelian,

how imperceptibly the grain fell
between a heart-beat of pleasure

and a heart-beat of pain;
I do not know how it came

nor how long it had lain there,
nor can I say

how it escaped tempest
of passion and malice,

nor why it was not washed away
in flood of sorrow,

or dried up in the bleak drought
of bitter thought.

*

(Minerva (found at Cori); porphyry statue – Rome: Palazzo Senatorio)

The term “porphyry” is from Latin and means “purple”. Purple was the color of royalty, and the “Imperial Porphyry” was a deep brownish purple igneous rock with large crystals of plagioclase. This rock was prized for various monuments and building projects in Imperial Rome and later.

Pliny’s Natural History afirmed that the “Imperial Pophyry” had been discovered at an isolated site in Egypt in AD 18, by a Roman legionnaire named Caius Cominius Leugas. It came from a single quarry in the Eastern Desert of Egypt, from 600 million year old andesite of the Arabian-Nubian Shield. The road from the quarry westward to Qena (Roman Maximianopolis) on the Nile, which Ptolemy put on his second-century map, was described first by Strabo, and it is to this day known as the Via Porphyrites, the Porphyry Road, its track marked by the hydreumata, or watering wells that made it viable in this utterly dry landscape.

All the porphyry columns in Rome, the red porphyry togas on busts of emperors, the porphyry panels in the revetment of the Pantheon, as well as the altars and vases and fountain basins reused in the Renaissance and dispersed as far as Kiev, all came from the one quarry at Mons Porpyritis (“Porphyry Mountain”, the Arabic Jabal Abu Dukhan), which seems to have been worked intermittently between 29 and 330, when Constantine the Great erected in Constantinople a 30-meter pillar, built of seven stacked porphyry drums, which still stands. A triumphant last use were the eight monolithic columns of porphyry that support exedrae in Hagia Sophia.

In Constantinople, the imperial family were “born to the purple.”Anna Comnena, daughter of the eleventhth-century emperor Alexius I, created a room in the palace veneered with purple porphyry where women of the ruling family were taken to give birth. The choice of porphyry for this room in particular was no accident: It ensured that members of the imperial family were literally porphyrogenitos, or “born to the purple.” The room is in the form of a perfect square from floor to ceiling, with the letter ending in a pyramid.

The imperial family were entombed in the purple as well, beginning with Nero, the first to be immured in a porphyry sarcophagus. Roman sarcophagi were re-used for imperial burials in Sicily: the poprphyry sarcophagi of Holy Roman Emperors Frederick II and Henry IV and king William I of Sicily and the Empress Constance, are preserved in the cathedrals of Palermo and Monreale.

After the fourth century the quarry was lost to sight for many centuries. The scientific members of the French Expedition under Napoleon sought for it in vain, and it was only when the Eastern Desert was reopened for study under Muhammad Ali that the site was rediscovered by Bruton and Wilkinson in 1823.

Subsequently the name was given to igneous rocks with large crystals. Porphyry now refers to a texture of igneous rocks.

ON THE QUARRY and THE TRADE ROUTES of PORPHYRY

The Eastern Desert played an important role in the history of Egypt. It was the source of gold, copper and many other minerals and precious stones that were highly sought after from the earliest of times. It was also the place through which trade with Arabia, Somalia and India was channelled. As a result, a large number of roads were built there throughout ancient times. These routes were especially important during the Roman occupation of Egypt, when many mines and quarries were reopened, and some new ones broken.

There were four main roads, starting from the Nile at Qena and Qift, crossing the Red Sea hills and terminating on the Red Sea at the Graeco-Roman ports of Myos Hormos (Abu Sha’ar Al-Qibli, 18km north of modern Hurghada, now the site of Al-Gouna resort), Philoteras (16km south of modern Safaga), Leukos Limen (modern Qusseir) and Berenice. The territory thus defined was covered by a veritable network of both main and subsidiary roads. All of them were unpaved — merely cleared tracks from which the stones had been picked and arranged in a line on each side. Yet, they are still clearly visible at many places, especially along the Myos Hormos road, where many kilometres of road have been preserved intact.

THE MYOS HORMOS ROAD

(fort at Badia)

The Myos Hormos road connected Qena (Kainopolis) with the most northerly of the Red Sea ports. It was about 190km long and was controlled by at least eight garrisons, whose stations lay approximately 25km apart. At Al-Heita, the road left Wadi Qena, crossed its main tributary, Wadi Fatira, and followed the course of Wadi Al-Atrash to its source near a pass in the Red Sea mountain range between Gebels Gattar and Dokhan. From there, it descended along the course of Wadi Bili to the Red Sea.

The stations along the road were check points where taxes were collected, overnight travellers accommodated and beasts of burden watered. Each station compound contained a well, usually of considerable depth. Water was stored in a tank of burnt brick and mortar which occupied a good part of the compound. For this reason, they were known as hydreumata (watering stations).

The station was a square fortified walled enclosure with a single gateway flanked by twin towers, and bastions at each corner and against each side. Staircases round the outer walls would have led to parapet walks. Today, the walls still stand three or more metres high.

The larger stations of Deir Al-Atrash and Al-Heita had bath houses and a number of buildings made of sun-dried bricks.

* The QUARRIES of Mons Porphyrites

(walkway to the mountain)

On the Myos Hormos road lie the quarries of the celebrated Mons Porphyrites. It was here that the beautiful purple stone known as Imperial Porphyry was quarried. The quarries stood high on the mountain side, while the quarrymen (mostly christian slaves) lived and worshipped on the lower flanks of the mountain.

The quarry seems to have been worked intermittently between AD29 and AD335, after which it was lost to sight for many centuries. The scientific members of the French Expedition under Napoleon sought for it in vain, and it was only when the Eastern Desert was reopened for study under Mohamed Ali that the site was rediscovered by Bruton and Wilkinson in 1823.

The high flanks of the remote mountain of Gebel Dokhan was the only place in the entire Roman Empire where this burgundy-coloured rock, speckled with rosy or white feldspar crystals, was to be found. The rock was quarried, chiselled and cut into roughly-shaped columns, and then slid 100 metres down a winding causeway or chute, to the dry bed of Wadi Al-Maa’mal.

From there, the columns were rolled, perhaps on tree trunks, down a stony course for another 15km, following the same path that is now used by motor cars. At the point where the wadi meets the plain, they were hauled up a large ramp which still exists to this day. From there, they could be loaded on to carts or sledges for a desert journey of about 160km to the Nile at Qena, where they would be placed on barges and shipped to Italy.

The thousands of tons of Imperial Porphyry which were extracted from Gebel Dokhan mostly ended up in Rome, where they were fashioned into finished pillars (134 of which still stand today in Italian churches), as well as countless altars, fonts, basins and sarcophagi. Many pillars were also taken to Istanbul, where they were used by Constantine and his successors to embellish the new Imperial city. The largest of these porphyry pillars originally stood in the temple of the sun at Baalbeck (Lebanon), from where they were subsequently moved to Saint Sophia cathedral (later mosque) in Istanbul. In later times, much of the porphyry was recut to suit medieval and modern tastes, and made into busts and sarcophagi for the royal families and aristocracies of Europe.

Today, three of the towns where the quarrymen lived survive in ruined form, each a cluster of houses crowded within a fortified wall. The town on the terrace opposite the temple housed the officer (who held the rank of centurion), the garrison of the quarry and probably the administrative staff. One eloquently built house, complete with plunge bath, is indicative of the luxurious lifestyle which expatriated officers enjoyed.

The two other towns are much more modest, with little huts divided by narrow lanes. It seems likely these were labourers’ houses. Their lives must have been hard and difficult to bear. Many of them were convicts, lower-class criminals, slaves, or even captives from the Jewish and Christian revolts. Greek inscriptions, evidently Christian in origin, can be seen on the quarry walls, confirming the words of Eusebius of Caeseria in his classic Church History (written ca. 303AD) concerning “the vast number of persecuted Christians sent to work in the porphyry quarries of the Thebaids.”

The mines and quarries of Ancient Egypt were all the property of the state, but on occasion they could be leased to contractors for a limited period of time and for a specific purpose. Whoever was in charge, however, working conditions were atrocious, as is attested by written records found in this quarry, mostly in the form of ostraca (inscribed pottery shards).

(porphyry bath)

To the northeast of the town, on a granite knoll, lie the ruins of the temple of Serapis, the god invented by Ptolemy I as part of his attempt to reconcile the Egyptian and Greek religions.

The logistics of extracting the Porphyry are incredible. The Porphyry can only be extracted in workable blocks from the tops of 4 mountains, and the quarries are named Lycabettos, Rammius, Lepsius and North-west. The difficulty of the terrain meant that the workers were accommodated in separate villages from the quarries, generally reasonably close. The two main areas of settlement below the quarries are a fort in the Wadi Abu Ma’amel and another on the southern flank of the Gebel Dokhan, named Badia. The whole complex was linked by a system of footpaths and slipways down which the Porphyry would be brought to the Wadi bed.

The footpaths zig-zag up the hills, often revetted over difficult areas and generally narrow. The slipways in contrast have a smooth gradient and are wider but still survive from the tops of the mountain to the wadi bed or loading villages. The path of the slipways is often marked by cairns, circular structures made of dry stone walling. The slipways are particularly impressive for both their extent and completeness. On reaching the wadi bed the evidence continues in the form of a cistern and animal lines at Umm sidri and then a great loading ramp 8km futher on, where it is believed the the stone would be loaded on to carts for the journey to the Nile, 150km away, going via Badia on a road again delineated by cairns that are still visible today.

The environment is harsh with no readily available water, except for a number of shady rock pools which may preserve water for some time. The local vegetation is sparce although Wadi Umm Sidri has a number of Zizyphus Spina-Christi trees which may indicate the presence of ground water. Other water is conserved in underground pockets in the wadi system, which at Badia is a few metres deep but over 15m below the surface at Umm Sidri. Two wells were dug to supply the workers and a supply chain was set up to bring water from the Nile. Modern rainfall is infrequent and is usually in deluges between October and December. These occurred three times during the length of the project and resulted in considerable movement of the boulders on the wadi bed.
Fort at Badia.

The problem of supplying food is little different to that of water. There is no local source of food to support the workforce which could in antiquity have amounted to several hundred men and the wildlife of any size is rare in the present day environment. The climate can reach temperatures of 114 degrees F (45.6 degrees C) in the summer.

NOTE:

* When George Murray, chief of the Egyptian Geographical Survey in the 1930’s, visited the quarry, he found a place so barren that it made him shudder. A ruined fortress, three lifeless villages, abandoned temples and shrines, dry wells, broken pillars, cracked stone baths—”the fossil whims of three centuries of Emperors,” he called it. The local Ma’aza Bedouin have a similar saying about the place: “The Romans left; only the ibex remained.”

***

In Islam, agates are deemed to be very precious stones. According to tradition, the wearer of an agate ring is believed to be protected from various mishaps and will enjoy longevity, among other benefits.

In other traditions agate is believed to cure the stings of scorpions and the bites of snakes, soothe the mind, prevent contagion, still thunder and lightning, promote eloquence, secure the favour of the powerful, and bring victory over enemies. Persian magi are also known to have prized agate rings in their work and beliefs.

The Shia Book of collected prayers, Mafatih Al-janan, quotes the fifth Shia saint Imam Muhammad al-Baqir on agates, as such:

“Whosoever endures the night ’til sunrise wearing an agate ring on his/her right hand, before seeing or being seen by any human that morning, turns the agate ring toward the palm side of his/her hand, and while looking at the gem recites the 97th chapter of the Qur’an followed by this prayer [specified], then the God of the Universe shall grant him/her immunity on that day from any danger that falls from the sky, or rises up to it, or which disappears into the earth, or rises out of it, and he/she shall remain protected by the power of God and the agents of God until dusk.” (p1212 of version by Haj Sheikh Abbas Qomi)

* Formation and characteristics

Most agates occur as nodules in volcanic rocks or ancient lavas where they represent cavities originally produced by the disengagement of volatiles in the molten mass which were then filled, wholly or partially, by siliceous matter deposited in regular layers upon the walls. Such agates, when cut transversely, exhibit a succession of parallel lines, often of extreme tenuity, giving a banded appearance to the section. Such stones are known as banded agate, riband agate and striped agate.

Many agates are hollow, since deposition has not proceeded far enough to fill the cavity, and in such cases the last deposit commonly consists of quartz, often amethyst, having the apices of the crystals directed towards the free space so as to form a crystal-lined cavity, or geode.

On the disintegration of the matrix in which the agates are embedded, they are set free. The agates are extremely resistant to weathering and remain as nodules in the soil or are deposited as gravel in streams and shorelines.

*****

Cornelian is a red variety of chalcedony which is cryptocrystalline quartz. Its red colour is due to the presence of iron impurities in the form of iron oxide or hematite. It can vary from a flesh red to a clear red. It is usually cut en cabochon, or into beads, and is also used for intaglios and cameos. Imitations of cornelian are made by the staining of agate.

Originally found in the deserts of Arabia and Egypt, it has also been found in the Rio Grande area, India, China, Colombia, Saxony, Scotland, West Germany and USA.

Cornelian has featured in nearly every great civilization. From the royalty of Ur (the Mesopotamian capital of pre-biblical times) to Napoleon, cornelian has been revered for its healing, spiritual and creative qualities.

A deeply religious stone, cornelian was used by the Egyptian goddess Isis to protect the dead on their journey to the afterlife; was one of the stones on Aaron’s breast plate of judgment; it is the symbol of the Apostle Philip; and Muhammad’s seal was an engraved cornelian set in a silver ring.

To this day Buddhists in China, India and Tibet believe in the protective powers of cornelian and often follow the Egyptian practice of setting the stone with turquoise and lapis lazuli for enhanced power. It is also the Astrological birthstone for Virgos.

From “cornu” (Latin) a horn
From “cornum” (Latin) cherry
From “carnis” (Latin) flesh or meat

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10 thoughts on “SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT & HD Blog 26: "how imperceptibly the grain"

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