Thursday, March 24, 2016

Ardita Jatru writes

Whores of my city

The whores of my city  
were beautiful girls,  
incoming queens from antiquity. 
Berraka had its queen,  
Semiramis, the courtesan of Babylon. 
At the "Tomb of Bam" Helena was leading  
and the Trojans were guarding her by night and day. 
Each neighborhood had a queen  
and its whore had to be beautiful. 
When they were moving forward on the boulevard,  
O Lord, how absolutely free they were! 
From behind their backs some hisses or stones. 
The boulevards boys  
suddenly turned into fighters. 
I was a kid when the whores reigned  
and one day I heard at the door the ladies of my neighborhood   
when Mereme burst into sighs: 
Ladies, you should have the whores΄ good luck,  
because for us honest women  
no man has killed himself.

--tr.  Laureta Petoshati

 Prostitute in Paris - oil painting by borda
Prostitute in Paris -- Borda


  1. Ardita Jatru tells me that Berraka and Tomb of Bam are neighborhoods in her hometown of Tirana, the capital of Albania. Every neighborhood had a beautiful woman who was given a nickname by the locals because she looked like a queen from the epic movies that played in Tirana during what Ardita called the "years of isolation." In Berraka there was a beauty with long, dark hair who was known as Semiramis, while in the Tomb of Bam there was a blonde woman called Helen of Troy. Mereme is the Turkish equivalent of Miriam, but in the poem she is the voice of an ordinary woman, not a prostitute.
    Beraka ("The Shack" in Arabic) seems to be a common name for towns and neighborhoods throughout the Muslim world. "El Berraka," which contained lyrics about drunken sexual intercourse, was the first hit song for Cheb Hasni of Oran, Algeria, a raï singer who was popular across North Africa. Raï is a folk music that dwells on social issues. It originated primarily among the poor in Oran in the 1930s based on Bedouin, Spanish, French, African, and Arabic musical forms; the new singers, who incorporate pop influences, are uniformly called "cheb," while the traditionalists are called "sheikh." The music drew its name from the Algerian Arabic word (meaning "opinion" or "advice")which was typically inserted and repeated by the singers to fill time as they formulated their improvised lyrics. In contrast to other Algerian music, particularly in a mixed-gender environment, raï incorporated dancing in addition to music. After independence in 1962, the government began to crack down on its performance due to its sexually and culturally risqué topics, going so far as to banning the importation of blank cassettes and confiscating the passports of raï musicians to prevent the music from spreading, and later exiling singers like Cheb Hasni. He returned to his homeland in 1994, only to be murdered by fundamentalist extremists in front of his parents' home. Other assassinations and government kidnappings followed.

  2. Bam, west of the central boulevard in Tirana, takes its name from the ancient Iranian citadel, Arg-é Bam, the world's largest adobe structure before it was destroyed in a 2003 earthquake. Covering some 180,000 sq meters (44 acres), it was surrounded by walls 6–7 meters (20–23 ft) high and 1,815 meters (5,955 ft) long. Its origin can be traced back to the Achaemenid period (6th to 4th centuries BCE) or earlier, but most of its structures were built during the Safavid dynasty (16th-18th centuries).

  3. According to the "Cypria," which preserved Greek traditions that dated to the 7th century BCE or earlier, the goddess Nemesis repeatedly transformed herself into different animals to escape the amorous advances of Zeus. When she became a goose; Zeus became a gander and mated with her, leading to the production of an infamous egg. Later sources claimed that the egg was taken to Leda (the wife of the Spartan king Tyndareus) by a shepherd who had found it in a grove in Attica, or that it was dropped into her lap by Hermes. In the 5th century BCE the playwright Euripides wrote that Zeus, in the form of a swan, took refuge with Leda to escape from a pursuing eagle; they mated and created the egg, from which emerged Helen of Troy along with her sister Clytemnestra (Klytaemnestra) and her brothers Castor and Pollux. Helen's legendary beauty was manifest at an early age: When she was only seven (accordng to Hellanicus of Lesbos) or ten (according to Diodorus Siculus) Theseus abducted her, prompting Castor and Pollux to invade Athens to recover her. (Stesichorus claimed that Iphigeneia was the daughter of Theseus and Helen, though usually she was described as the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra; it was Agamemnon's sacrifice of her to gain divine favor against Troy that alienated his wife, who called her own sister a "wicked woman," warning Agamemnon that sacrificing Iphigenia for Helen's sake was "buying what we most detest with what we hold most dear" -- his action led to his assassination by his wife after he returned from the Trojan War.) Sextus Propertius imagined young Helen: "with naked breasts she carried weapons ... and did not blush with her divine brothers there." When she grew up, at least 45 prominent suitors sought to marry her. Clytemnestra was already married to Agamemnon, and Tyndareus wanted to marry Helen to his absent brother Menelaus (who had sent Agamemnon to act on his behalf) but was afraid of offending any of the others. He agreed to help one of the hapless suitors, Odysseus, in his courtship of Penelope, the daughter of Icarius, instead, if Odysseus could resolve the issue. Under Odysseus' plan, all the suitors had to swear in advance to defend the chosen husband against any challenger. After Menelaus was selected, Tyndareus and Leda abdicated in favor of the newlyweds, who, over the next decade, had a daughter, Hermione, and three sons, the youngest of which Helen took with her to Troy.

  4. When Paris, the son of Priam and Hecuba of Troy, was born, his mother had dreamed that she gave birth to a flaming torch, which a seer interpreted as foretelling the end of of Troy unless the child was killed. Priam sent his chief herdsman to expose him on Mt. Ida, but a bear suckled Paris and saved his life. As an adult Paris was tasked with deciding which goddess was the most beautiful; Hera offered him all of Europe and Asia if he chose her, and Athena offered wisdom and skill in battle, but Aphrodite offered the love of the world's most beautiful woman. Paris believed that he, not Menelaus, had been entitled to marry Helen, and he went to Sparta on a supposed diplomatic mission in order to claim her as his own. He abducted or seduced Helen and took her back to Troy with him. (Sappho insisted that "she that far surpassed all mortals in beauty, Helen her most noble husband deserted, and went sailing to Troy, with never a thought for her daughter and dear parents.") Menelaus invoked the suitors' oath, and Agamemnon led them against Troy. In an effort to avert the war, Menelaus challenged Paris to a duel, but Paris ran away; his brother Hector belittled him into making a second attempt, which resulted in Paris' serious injury, but Aphrodite saved his life by teleporting him back into Helen's arms. Over time, as Paris' wekness and cowardice became apparent, Helen came to despise him in favor of Hector. However, after Achilles had slain Hector and most of the other Trojan heroes, Paris (with Apollo's help) killed Achilles with an arrow; by some accounts, it was actually Apollo disguised as Paris who did the deed. Paris, in turn, was eventually slain, and his brothers Helenus and Deiphobus vied with each other for possession of Helen. Losing the contest, Helenus abandoned Troy and, after he was captured by Odysseus on Mt. Ida, predicted the Greeks would be victorious if they stole the Trojan Palladium, brought the bones of Pelops to Troy, and persuaded Hermione's husband Neoptolemus (Achilles' son by the Scyrian princess Deidamia) and Philoctetes (who possessed Heracles' bow and arrows) to join them; like his twin sister Cassandra, he had the ability to see the future, so the Greeks hastily did as they were told. Odysseus then conceived the gambit that ended the 10-year war.In three days the Greeks built a giant wooden horse (the emblem of Troy) and concealed an elite force inside, including Odysseus and Menelaus. "Abandoning" one man, and leaving the horse behind as an offering to Athena in atonement for their desecration of her temple at Troy and to ensure a safe journey home, and, in order that the Greeks would get all the divine credit, deliberately making it too large for the Trojans to take it into their city, they pretended to sail away. Cassandra insisted that the horse would be the city's downfall but was ignored, and the Trojans pulled it inside as a victory trophy. Helen suspected a trick and circled the horse three times while imitating the voices of the Greek women left at home, torturing the men inside with the memory of their loved ones, and only Odysseus' quick wit saved them from revealing their presence. But that night, leading a chorus of Trojan women, Helen feigned Bacchic rites and, holding a torch among them, from the city's central tower she signaled for the Greek army to return. The troops inside the horse opened the gates, and the combined force sacked Troy while Helen hid her new husband's sword, leaving him to the mercy of Menelaus and Odysseus. Greeks and Trojans alike sought to stone Helen to death, but Menelaus demanded that only he had the right to kill her. When he found her she unloosed the robe from her shoulders, he dropped his sword to the ground, and took her back to Sparta as his wife.

  5. Neoptolemus killed Hector's young son by throwing him from the city walls and then took Helenus as a slave and Hector's widow Andromache as a concubine. (Before her marriage to Hector, her father and seven brothers had been killed by Achilles when he sacked her native Thebes.) She bore Neoptolemus three sons: Molossus (the founder of the Molossians, a tribe that inhabited the region of Epirus in northwestern Greece), Pielus, and Pergamus (named after the citadel of Troy), while his own wife remained childless. Hermione, complaining that Andromache used magic to keep her from becoming pregnant, tried to get her father to kill her rival while Neoptolemus was away at war, but Menelaus refused. So Hermione eloped with the man to whom she had once been betrothed, her cousin Orestes, the son of Agamemnon, and bore his heir Tisamenus. Neoptolemus traveled to Epirus, allowed Helenus to found Buthrotum, and then left Andromache and his sons in Helenus's care. Orestes killed Neoptolemus, whose kingdom was then partitioned. Helenus became the king in Buthrotum and the husband of Andromache, who bore him a son, Cestrinus, and he also married Neoptolemus' mother to consolidate his claim to his part of the kingdom. When Aeneas visited Buthrotum, Helenus prophesied he would found Rome. Helenus was succeeded by Molossus as king of Epirus; Cestrinus revolted and conquered the region north of the Thyamis river (the area known as Cestrine), and Andromache went to live with Pergamus in Pergamum. (Orestes later married his second cousin and half-sister Erigone, daughter of Clytemnestra and her lover Aigisthus). After the death of Menelaus, his illegitimate sons drove Helen from Sparta. She fled to Rhodes, ruled by Polyxo, the widow of Tlepolemus (a son of Heracles), who had been slain on the first day of fighting in the Trojan War. To avenge her husband's death, Polyxo dressed her handmaidens as Furies, and they seized Helen while she was bathing and hanged her from a tree.

  6. At a time when the future superpower Assyria ruled only over parts of neighboring areas in Mesopotamia, Syria, Asia Minor, and Iran, Shammuramat ("gift of the sea") was the country's regent for five years until her son Adad-nirari III came of age; she was the widow of Shamshi-Adad V, who ruled 824–811 BCE. Under the reigns of Shamshi-Adad V's father Shalmaneser III and his grandfather Ashurnasirpal II, Assyria had begun its march toward empire, but Shalmaneser III’s eldest son, Ashur-danin-pal, revolted against his father in 826 BCE. It took Shamshi-Adad V six years to defeat his brother, leaving the realm in a weakened state. During her regency, Shammuramat restored the nation's authority, annexed the Medes' territory, and possibly conquered the Armenians. A century and a half later the Neo Assyrian Empire stretched from the Caucasus Mountains in the north to the Arabian Peninsula in the south to western Iran in the east to Cyprus in the west, and the Greeks remodeled the former queen into the legendary Semiramis, the wife and successor to the mythical king Ninus who also married her son Ninyas, ruling her vast domain for 42 years. Nearly every stupendous work of antiquity in Mesopotamia or in Iran was ascribed to her, including the Behistun inscription of Darius I and the artificial banks that confined the Euphrates. She restored ancient Babylon and surrounded it with a high brick wall. She built several palaces in Persia, including Ecbatana. She was credited with inventing the chastity belt. Various places in Assyria, Media, Persia, the Levant, Asia Minor, Arabia, and the Caucasus bore her name; for example, the Armenian city of Van was once Shamiramagerd ("created by Semiramis"). Her mother was Derketo, another name for Atargatis, the chief goddess of northern Syria, who fell in love with and became impregnated by a mortal youth. Upon the birth of the child, Derceto flung herself into a lake near Ascalon, but to keep from drowning, her body changed into the form of a fish (though her head remained human). The child, Semiramis, was rescued and fed by doves until she was found and raised by the royal shepherd. (Among the many deeds associated with her, she was the first to castrate male youths to make them eunuchs; according to a 3rd-century source, the men of Stria Edessa used to castrate themselves in honor of Atargatis king Abgar commanded that anyone who emasculated himself would have a hand cut off as well.) Semiramis married Onnes (or Menones), but Ninus was so struck by her bravery at the capture of Bactra that he ordered the general to exchange her for the king's own daughter. Onnes, in desperation, hanged himself, and Ninus took her as his wife. After Ninus defeatied the Bactrians and others, Semiramis persuaded him to give her ruling authority for five days to see how well she could manage it, then had him executed; masquerading as Ninyas to trick the army into following her commands, she conquered most of Asia as well as Libya and Aethiopia. She had her artisans create an army of artificial elephants to fool king Stabrobates of India into thinking she had real ones, but she was wounded in battle and forced to retreat west of the Indus.

  7. The Greeks were not alone in their mythologizing of her; according to the 12th-century "Gesta Treverorum," a history of the Germanic Treveri tribe, Ninus had a son by an earlier marriage, Trebeta, whom Semiramis exiled when she assumed the throne; he founded Trier, which became one of the largest cities in the Roman empire. To the Armenians, she was a sorceress, a homewrecker, and a harlot: Shamiram, the daughter of the fish-goddess Atargatis. When Ara Geghecik "the Handsome" refused to marry her, she invaded Armenia and slew him in battle, then disguised one of her lovers as the dead king and spread the rumor that, at her behest, the gods had brought Ara back to life, ending the war. Ara, one of the legendary forefathers of the Armenians, was probably Arame (or Aramu), Urartu's first known king (858-844 BCE); he united the Nairi tribe against the Assyrians, but his capital, Arzashkun, was captured by Shalmaneser III of Assyria (859–824 BCE).
    When Alexander Hislop published "The Two Babylons" in 1858 as an anti-Catholic tract, he identified Semiramis as "the whore of Babylon" in the Book of Revelations. According to Hislop and his followers, Semiramis was Noah’s granddaughter and the wife of Nimrod, the creator of the first empire. During the course of his conquests he fell in love with the keeper of an inn (or brothel) in Erech and elevated her to the queenship; the propaganda was created that she was a virgin who sprang from the sea at Nimrod's landing. However, after she became pregnant with another man's child, Nimrod threatened to dethrone her. His people celebrated the new year by tearing a live ram limb from limb and eating the pieces raw, then presenting on the next day a newly born ram which was then fattened over the next year. Semiramis replaced the ram with Nimrod, who was butchered by the frenzied priests. Semiramis then declared that Nimrod had been resurrected as the god of the sun, whose rays inseminated her. Thus, the reincarnated Nimrod returned to power as her illegitimate son Damu (Dammuzi, from the Sumerian "dam" = blood), deified as Tammuz, under her own regency. To defend her reign against dissidents in the army she built a system of walls, towers, and gates around Babylon, becoming the first to build fortifications; and her crown was modeled on those turreted walls. She also had herself worshipped as Astarte, the Queen of Heaven. When Dammu reached maturity and demanded that Semiramis surrender her regency, she plotted to remove him in the same she had removed her husband, but Dammu killed her with his sword. The fame of Semiramis continued for many centuries: In the "Comedìa" (christened "Divina" a century later by Giovanni Boccaccio), Dante degli Alighieri placed her in the Second Circle of Hell:
    And as the cranes go chanting forth their lays,
    Making in air a long line of themselves,
    So saw I coming, uttering lamentations,

    Shadows borne onward by the aforesaid stress.
    Whereupon said I: "Master, who are those
    People, whom the black air so castigates?"

    "The first of those, of whom intelligence
    Thou fain wouldst have", then said he unto me,
    "The empress was of many languages.

    To sensual vices she was so abandoned,
    That lustful she made licit in her law,
    To remove the blame to which she had been led.

    She is Semiramis, of whom we read
    That she succeeded Ninus, and was his spouse;
    She held the land which now the Sultan rules."


Join the conversation! What is your reaction to the post?