Going Back to Ephesos
Extract from the forthcoming book
I do not know who will read this. Neither do I know how and if any of it will be understood, or if you, dear unknown reader, will believe me at all.
In the following story I will take you with me on my journey into the past and this past might not look like the one you come to know.
In Ephesos, when I was a young man, I had witnessed a weird monk named Paulus burning books at the agora. He was laughed at for it, finally accused for destroying works of thought, and as a result of a trial he was exiled to an island nearby.
Just one year ago, in February 1497 as is counted now, I left the city of Fiorentia after having to witness how not only again books were burned, but how people applauded it, how thousands of my fellow citizens cheerfully sang along as they threw the books as well as paintings, chess boards, masks, finest of clothes and perfumes onto the burning stake.
I started to wonder what had gone wrong in the meantime, what was different now to the time of my youth. So I decided to go back to Ephesos in an attempt to reconstruct the story of my life and the events I witnessed.
I started my journey soon after I had realized that, according to current chronicles, the days of my youth are supposed to be 2000 years ago now. By going back to Ephesos, to the place where I grew up and spent many of my best days, I wanted to estimate the difference between my memory, between the major narrative and the actual past. I did find, however, that this difference, or better: vast distance, is not mere coincidence or trifle but that rather memory and narration seem to systematically blur and change the picture of the past.
Thus I cannot know what the past will look like to a future reader.
How has it come this? How could we all deceive ourselves into this exaggerated history?
You, my dear unknown reader, may decide for yourself, if I am just mad or if there is really something wrong with the way history is recorded.
But why is it that I can recall the past so much more accurately than the chronists, the historians, the rhetoricians?
For one thing, I am terribly old, if my record is correct it must be more than 80 years now. I know very few others of my age, and the few I know are senile, sick and bitter. Those just a bit younger who at least witnessed the whole story were far too involved in the major events and in the creation of all these myths and histories to ever really question them anymore. Some of the younger ones might ask the right questions but rely on what is told by the elders. And most of the younger people simply don’t ask anymore but blindly believe in a glorious past and a glorious future that both make this miserable present look a little glorious, too.
Second, I definitely led a good life. As a popular merchant I not only supplied others but also myself with the best of food, wine, spices, and herbs, so I hardly ever got sick and often found the time to think about the world. Being the arbitrator between the ones producing the goods and the ones who consumed them I was naturally dependant on all of them, still I was not supposed to be loyal to a single group which rendered me and my thinking relatively independent.
Third, I provided the special merchandise which I offered to smoke or inhale in my Den close to the Artemision in Ephesos, thus attracting quite some of the most brilliant minds of the time - philosophers, mystics, politicians, artists - who shared their thoughts and visions, and let me join in their argument. The special merchandise had quite an effect on perception and interpretation of the world. Sometimes I wonder to which degree the current historical amnesia, that fills the gaps with an abundance of newly invented stories, is a result of its effect on the memory. Yet my inquiries of the last months showed me that it does not take this herb to make them forget and imagine. My doubts about history had been dismissed as being the result of the herb - now I know they might be partly a result of the consciousness expanding effect of it, but definitely not of the memory damaging effect.
To sum it up, in a way I am so different now because I still am how everybody in Ephesos once was - if this impression is not a result of my herbal delusion either.
To the best of my knowledge, I was born and raised in the city of Ephesos. My Hebrew parents had been flleeing, like so many others, from the horsemen armies of Eastern Empire. I started to run my Den soon after my initiation at the Artemision and ran it all through the years when many of my peers started to join the movement of their Divine leader Iulius, when they violated the Holy Commandment not to kill by taking the leader’s side in the following Civil War, and when they partook in the building and fortifying of the Big City on the Bosporus which they called Roma and which is now called Istanbul by the Osmans under whose wise rule I am writing these lines.
I left Ephesos when Osman armies approached it, I visited Roma and her overwhelming abundance of newly built temples and walls until, in what is now calculated 1453, the Osmans showed up in front of them with huge bronze cannons nobody seemed prepared for. While many others fled across the Balkans, I went to Greece where some of my fellow Romans had tried to create a new cultural and military base.
There, news reached us about the fall of the Big City which left me quite desperate, yet turned most of the others into raging avengers who from this moment on talked about nothing else anymore than reconquering the Holy City as they reffered to it now. Soon after, more news arrived about how the leader, the “Lord”, had been maliciously murdered by his evil twin Iudas, one of the Hebrews they said. The divination of Iulius continued who was now considered to be three persons in one - Iulius, Ianus, and Iesus -, accompagnied by a wrathful cult directed against the people responsible for his death and thus for the fall of the City and the Empire: the Hebrews, now called Jews to signify them as Iudas’ people.
From the different armies now forming behind models of Iulius’ tropaeum - some like Germanicus going across the Balkans into Europe, others going to the area of Antiochia where Iulius was supposed to have been born - I joined those who seemed the least hostile to Jews which turned out not to be the case. I went as military supplier with Justin to “reconquer” Italy. This was the first time I openly started to question the historical perspective because I asked many of Justin’s men how they could reconquer a country where no Roman had lived so far. They did not really reply, rather they kept chanting like under a spell that everything they did would ultimately lead to the reconquering and liberation of the Holy City.
I heard of the bloodbath of Troia in Apulia, supposed to intimidate the natives into submission but followed by more bloody city raids culminating in the massacres of Ravenna that definitely made we wonder if the Evil Eastern Empire could actually be as evil as this.
In the forming new order in Italy - the Romans and Greeks became Troians and Italians, the Empire became a bunch of city states - I tried to maintain a civilized life while civilization reared its ugly head around me. I settled in Fiorentia which I assumed would be most welcome or at any rate least hostile to the likes of me as it was known for being a safe haven for those of excentric thoughts and strange desires. I kept trading all the good stuff and was able to make myself believe that one day it will all be better even though “Jews” were attacked on a regular basis, even though the Iulius cult became a dark monastic movement persecuting “unnatural” men, despising beauty and luxury, yet opposing physical joy in general.
So, pay heed to the story of my life which might help explain how the open pool of possibilities I once knew turned out to be the narrow-minded tyranny of the joyless. You might understand that the distortion of the past by the recorded history is not a mere side-factor in this mess but a constituting element. That’s why I chose to deliver my story in the classical form of dialogues as was once considered the only fashion in which one could possibly approximate the truth by circling it. If you find this hard to read, please give it some time and patience, because you might have been trained into swallowing one-dimensional pretensions of the truth for far too long.
Our beloved Artemis taught us to argue and differ, to dismiss the easy connections for the deep ones, and to trust our questioning mind.
I want to begin my story in that Fiorentium of the Medici that had become the book burning Fiorentium of the fanatic monk Savonarola and his child brigades. I will record the last conversations forming my decision to travel back to Ephesos. I reproduced the dialogues as exactly as I could - but of course I chose from them. I hope I managed to avoid writing history.
(July 28th, 2008)