So, it is 2 months to the day since Mike found out that he has cancer. It seems a lot longer ago than that. That was the same day that he and Judy went to Kosher Kroger’s to make their purchases for Passover. While there he made an impulse buy of a 30 oz jar of creamed pickled herring. It was in the refrigerated area of the kosher food section, so I suppose it is a Jewish delicacy. And is it ever something! Every time he opens the jar there is an immediate convergence of cats. He never gives us any to eat. He says it will make us sick. Why is that a problem? He does let us lick the fork after he is finished with his snack (that he eats straight out of the jar. No other humans in the house seem to be interested in sharing.) I heard Mike telling Judy that his father used to eat creamed pickled herring, the same brand that he got at the store. It is made by a company out of Chicago. Moe Gordon seemed to like stinky fish. He also used to get canned sardines and eat them straight out of the can. Mike remembers that the cans came with a little key stuck to the bottom. You had to remove the key, engage it in a tab at one end of the top, and the twist the top off. I have never seen Mike eat sardines. But that herring! I bet it is on the buffet in heaven, right next to the mouse brains. Mike has been snacking diligently but it has taken a long time to eat that much herring. I think there is one piece remaining. You have heard the story of the loaves and the fishes. Well, I think the fishes may have been creamed pickled herring. What a way to attract a crowd! (We now know that a 30 ounce jar of creamed pickled herring will not spoil in a 2 month period of time, useful information if you ask me.)
Mike is currently rereading a book by Simon Sebag Montefiore entitled “Jerusalem, a Biography.” It is a history of the city from its known origins through the six day war in 1967. As such, it is a history of the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He tells remarkable stories of luxury and wealth, tyranny and depravity, religious fanaticism, and barbarism and terrible suffering. This is Mike’s current reading while he gets his infusions (next one tomorrow.) He finds it an interesting and disturbing look into human nature, and how close to the surface savage cruelty lies in many individuals. And it is not just the tyrants who are capable of atrocities. They seem to have never had a problem finding seemingly ordinary people to do their killing and butchering for them. As I said, very disturbing. But also, in reading such history, one encounters fascinating characters and circumstances. I think from time to time I might tell you about some of them.
Let’s start with Abu al-Misk Kafur, a former slave of Muhammad ibn Tughj, the founder of the Ikhshidid dynasty in Egypt. Kafur was black-skinned, originally from Ethiopia, and a eunuch. Impressed with his loyalty and intelligence, ibn Tughj freed him and appointed him royal tutor for his 2 sons. He also put him in charge of an army, and he was successful as a military leader. When ibj Tughj died in 946 CE, Kafur became the de facto head of the government which had control over Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. He ruled in this capacity for 20 years, and after both of the sons of ibn Tughj had died, he became the ruler in fact until his death in 967 or 968. Who knew that a black former slave, a eunuch, had been the ruler of an Islamic empire? And, historians give him a better than passing grade for his skill at managing the economy and government.
It is not recorded how he came to be a eunuch. Castration of young boys was common in ancient times. Being a slave put people at risk for all kinds of abuse and humiliation. God help you if you were a slave, an attractive boy, and came to the attention of the royal household. Castration was done to prevent the development of more adult masculine characteristics in adolescent boys for whom some kings and emperors had sexual appetites. It was also a common practice to place eunuchs in charge of the harems and concubines of the king on the theory that they wouldn’t misuse their opportunity for sexual congress with the ladies. This is very likely a flawed theory, in my opinion. Being a member of the royal court was always hazardous because of the absolute power of the despot to have anyone tortured, killed, etc. And the greater your visibility, the greater the risk that you would piss someone off, and that would be that. One of the most notorious of all tyrants, the Roman emperor Nero, is said to have become angry with his pregnant wife, Sabina, and killed her by repeatedly kicking her in the abdomen. He then decided that he missed her and searched for a replacement, someone who looked like her. Along came Sporus, a pretty boy, whom Nero had castrated. He married him in a great ceremony in which he renamed him Sabina, and dressed him as an empress. After Nero was murdered, Nymphidius, the commander of the guard, took a shine to him and used him sexually until he too was murdered. Sporus then fell into the hands of the new emperor, Otho, who lasted 3 months until he too was murdered (or possibly committed suicide.) Next, the emperor Vitellius came along. He, however, had no interest in Sporus, other than to publicly humiliate him. At the age of 18, Sporus committed suicide. Some life! Among cats castration is common. (See “The Other Cats”,December 18, 2016). I talk about being tutored when I was at the shelter. I now know the correct term is neutered. If people would articulate their words better I wouldn’t be subject to these errors. For a cat, speaking as a eunuch, so to speak, its not a big deal, and it keeps me out of a lot of fights, not that I wouldn’t win most of them.
Well, I seem to have wandered a long way from creamed pickled herring. I may have lost you along the way. For those of you who are interested in Mike’s well-being, he seems fine to me. I will keep you posted. Until the next time, so long from Happy Meadows, and be well.