I’ve been looking some more at Byzantine science. My original intention was to write a series of posts on each area of science. But I’m finding that in fact I don’t know enough about the subjects to do so. In particular knowledge of Byzantine mathematics and astronomy seems to require more knowledge of the works of Aristotle than I possess. So I will probably do no more on this.
Yesterday I was looking at an English translation of a poem by al-Akhtal, the court poet of the early Ummayads, whom I wrote about here. This led me to wonder how to post a poem on WordPress, which is what this blog runs on. There is no feature in the blogging platform to support the sort of alternately indented lines that a regular poem has. I found quite a number of posts asking why there is not a plugin to make this possible.
A bit of experimentation, and I developed a basic wordpress plugin with very little difficulty, that added a drop-down to the editor with a set of new and custom styles to apply to the text. I set up Xampp locally on Windows 10 and installed WordPress inside it. A short article told me what a simple plugin looked like. Another told me how to use a generator to create one, which I did, although I had to create a GitHub account to use it. Finally another article advised me on how to do the changes manually; which I did instead inside my plugin, adding the PHP code to the main generated plugin .php file, and sticking a css file in the root. It all sort of worked, and I pushed it to GitHub.
But … it just did not work to format poetry. The problem is not the plugin. The problem is that WordPress strips whitespace in a manner impossible to control. You can insert stuff in a poetic format. But the moment you open the post in the visual editor, that format is destroyed.
This is a fundamental problem with poetry in WordPress. It can’t be fixed, unless or until the main developers address the whitespace handling issue.
The only possible approach is to format it all as <PRE>, which is not much of an answer and looks terrible.
Perhaps it says something about the importance of poetry in our society, that the main blogging platform for writing online makes it impossible to post verse?
I need to return to translating Eutychius of Alexandria. I have a couple of books to review.
My trip to Rome later this month will not now happen, after my travelling companion became ill.
I read this morning that the publishing industry continues its campaign against the SciHub pirate website, through which alone normal people can access most journal articles. Apparently a US judge wants to prevent Americans from accessing it. That should certainly give China an advantage! The site itself is apparently hosted in Russia, fortunately.
To finish, let me attempt to post the poem by al-Akhtal, in preformatted format, as translated by Suzanne Stetkevych. I laid it out in Notepad; but my attempt to create a preformatted block and paste it in was a complete failure. Even preformatted text is not handled well by the visual editor, it seems. In the end I switched to text view and pasted it in there, with <pre></pre> tags around it. This gives the following appearance:
How long will it remain formatted, I wonder? Well, let’s see!
Here is the complete poem, that al-Akhtal delivered before the caliph, while drunk.
Al-Akhtal's Khaffa al-Qatinu: The Nasib 1. Those that dwelt with you have left in haste, departing at evening or at dawn, Alarmed and driven out by fate's caprice, they head for distant lands. 2. And I, on the day fate took them off, was like one drunk On wine from Hims or Jadar that sends shivers down the spine, 3. Poured generously from a brimming wine-jar, lined with pitch and dark with age, Its clay seal broken off its mouth, 4. A wine so strong it strikes the vital organs of the reveller, His heart, hungover, can barely sober up. 5. I was like that, or like a man whose joints are racked with pain, Or like a man whose heart is struck by charms and amulets, Out of longing for them and yearning on the day I sent my glance after them As they journeyed in small bands on Kawkab Hill's two slopes. 7. They urged on their mounts, turning their backs on us, while in veiled howdahs, if you spoke softly to them, were maidens lovely as statues. 8. They entice the tribesmen until they ensnare them, Yet they seem feeble-minded when questioned. 9. Forget about union with beautiful women when they are sure That you are a man whom old age's blossom has demeaned! 10. They turned away from me when my bow's stringer bent it And when my once jet-black locks turned white. 11. They do not heed the man who calls them to fulfill his need, Nor do they set their sights upon a white-haired man. 12. They headed east when summer's blast had wrung the branches dry, And, except where ploughshares run, all green had withered. 13. So the eye is troubled by tears shed for a now-distant campsite Whose folk will find it hard to ever meet again. 14. They are cut off, like a rope, and the eye follows after them, Between al-Shaqiq and al-Maqsim Spring, 15. Until they descended to a land on the side of a river bed Where the tribes of Shayban and Ghubar alight, 16. Until when they left behind the sandy tamarisk ground And had reached high ground, or said, "This is the trench [that Khosroes] dug." 17. They alighted in the evening, and we turned aside our noble-bred camels: For the man in need, the time had come to journey. 18. To a man whose gifts do not elude us, whom God has made victorious, So let him in his victory long delight! 19. He who wades into the deep of battle, auspicious his augury, The Caliph of God through whom men pray for rain. 20. When his soul whispers its intention to him it sends him resolutely forth, His courage and his caution like two keen blades. 21. In him the common weal resides, and after his assurance No peril can seduce him from his pledge. 22. Not even the Euphrates when its tributaries pour seething into it And sweep the giant swallow-wort from its two banks into the middle of its rushing stream, 23. And the summer winds churn it until its waves Form agitated puddles on the prows of ships, 24. Racing in a vast and mighty torrent from the mountains of Byzance Whose foothills shield them from it and divert its course, 25. Is ever more generous than he is to the supplicant Or more dazzling to the beholder's eye. 26. They did not desist from their treachery and cunning against you Until, unknowingly, they portioned out the maysir-players' flesh. 27. Then whoever witholds his counsel from us And whose hand is niggardly to those beneath us 28. Will be the ransom of the Commander of the Faithful, When a fierce and glowering battle-day bares its teeth. 29. Like a crouching lion, poised to pounce, his chest low to the ground, For a battle in which there is prey for him, 30. [The Caliph] advances with an army two-hundred thousand strong, The likes of which no man or jinn has ever seen. 31. He comes to bridges which he builds and then destroys, He brands his steeds with battle-scars, above him fly banners and battle-dust, 32. Until at al-Taff they wreaked carnage, And at al-Thawiyyah where no bowstring twanged. 33. The tribesmen saw clearly the error of their ways, And he straightened out the smirk upon their faces. 34. Single-handed, he assumed the burdens of the people of Iraq, Among whom he once had bestowed a store of grace and favor. 35. In the mighty nab'-tree of Quraysh round which they gather, No other tree can top its lofty crown. 36. It overtops the high hills, and they dwell in its roots and stem; They are the people of bounty, and, when they boast, of glory, 37. Rallying behind the truth, recoiling from foul speech, disdainful, In the face of war's calamities they stand steadfast. 38. If a darkening cloud casts its pall over the horizons, They have a refuge from it and a haven. 39. God allotted to them the good fortune that made them victorious, And after theirs all other lots are small, contemptible. 40. They do not exult in it since they are its masters; Any other tribe, were this their lot, would be exultant, vain. 41. Ruthless toward their foe, till they submit; In victory, the most clement of men. 42. Those that harbor rancor toward them cannot endure their battle-wrath; When their rods are tested no flaw is found. 43. It is they who vie with the rain-bearing wind to bring sustenance When impoverished supplicants find scant food. 44. O Banu Umayyah, your munificence is like a widespread rain; It is perfect, unsullied by reproach. 45. O Banu Umayyah, it was I who defended you From the men of a tribe that sheltered and aided [the Prophet]. 46. I silenced the Banu Najjir's endless braying against you With poems that reached the ears of every chieftain of Ma'add, 47. Until they submitted, smarting from my words- For words can often pierce where sword-points fail. 48. O Banu Umayyah, I offer you sound counsel: Don't let Zufar dwell secure among you, 49. But take him as an enemy, for what you see of him And what lies hid within is all corruption. 50. For in the end you'll meet with ancient rancor: Like mange, it lies latent for awhile only to break out once more.
The poem grows on you, as you read it. The caliph was well pleased, as we learned last time.