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Little String Game

I’ve looked up “archipelago” in the OED and my Eleventh Edition (1910-11) of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and found it is pronounced arkipelago, and that the Italian word it came to us from, arci-pelago, is pronounced archie. Thus, at least two pronunciations are in use. To my surprise, though, I see the word doesn’t mean “islands”but the sea in which they are found in number. The etymology is much disputed. The OED says it comes from the Italian arcipelago, from arci (chief, principle) and pelago (deep, abyss, gulf, pool). The medieval Latin is pelagus, the Greek pelagos, sea. In most languages the word had at first the prefix of the native form: OSp. arcipielago ; OPg. arcepelago; M.E. archpelago, arch-sea. All except Italian now begin archi; according to the OED,

(n)o such word occurs in ancient or med. Gr. Arcipelagos in modern Greek Dicts. is introduced from western languages. Arcipelago occurs in a Treaty of 30th June 1268, between the Venetians and the emperor Michael Paleologus... It was evidently a true Italian compound...suggested probably by the mediœval Latin name of the Aegean Sea, Egeopelagus, and alluding to the vast difference in size between this and the lagoons, pools, or ponds, to which pelago was popularly applied...

The EB (Eleventh Edition) says that archipelago is

a name applied to any island-studded sea, but originally the distinctive designation of what is now generally known as the Aegean Sea...its ancient name having been revived. Several etymologies have been proposed: e.g. (1) it is a corruption of the ancient name, Egeopelago; (2) it is from the modern Greek...the Holy Sea; (3) it arose at the time of the Latin empire, and means the Sea of the Kingdom; (4) it is a translation of the Turkish name, Ak Denghiz, Argon Pelagos, the White Sea; (5) it is simply Archipelagus, Italian, arcipelago, the chief sea.

It appears then, in Old Spanish and Old Portuguese; was a medieval invention of the Mediterranean world of the Middle Ages, a sea-going trade term, when the Mediterranean, or even the Aegean, was still the biggest sea almost anyone knew of.

So goeth a word. But I’m going to trace further back, to its components.


The Pelagones -- Pelagonians -- were a people in the north of Macedonia. Their country was Pelagonia. A town of that name existed: current name (1910), Bitoglia. (Pelagus in Greek and Latin can mean “flood.” Pelasgi is the Greek word for the oldest inhabitants of Greece.) Monastir is also the name of this town. It is in “European Turkey,” and “the ancient diocese of its Greek archbishop is known as Pelagonia, from the old name of the Kara-Su plain.”

Checking an atlas, I find it lies far to the south, in former-Yugoslavia, nearly at the border with Greece, close to Albania. It has been identified with the ancient Heraclea Lyncestis on the Via Egnatia. The index lists five references, the last of which reads, intriguingly, “Triumphal arches of.”

In an article on Albania: in areas just to the east, where Monastir/ Bitoglia lies, “the Via Egnatia, the great Roman highway to the east, is still used....”

Under “Edessa”: original residence of the Macedonian Kings; royal burial ground here. I can’t find Via Egnatia.

Under “Illyria”: Illiricum was the great dividing area between the Latin and Greek worlds; between their two languages (its center is in Bosnia); and soon between Roman and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. “The Via Egnatia, the great line of road which connected Rome with Constantinople and the East, led across Illyricum....”

Under “Salonika”: Turkish (in 1910), in western Macedonia. Here, look at this: it was one of the principal seaports in SW Europe, with a Sephardic Jewish population (1905) of 60,000 out of 130,000; they had fled there from Spain. Here is the end of the article:

The Via Egnatia of the Romans (mod. Jassijol or Grande Rue de Vardar) traverses the city from east to west, between the Vardar Gate and the Calamerian Gate. Two Roman triumphal arches used to span the Via Egnatia. The arch near the Vardar Gate -- a massive stone structure probably erected toward the end of the 1st century AD, was destroyed in 1867 to furnish material for repairing the city walls; an imperfect inscription from it is preserved in the British Museum....

The mosques of the city are actually very ancient Christian structures, the ancient murals intact, one of them from the time of Justinian.


“SEE ARCHES,” says the OED, under archipelago. And so I shall. (This is also, I see, just the way I travel.)

Arches: ‘A common term among seamen for the Archipelago.’ Smyth, SAILOR’S WORD-BK, 1867. 1725, De Foe. VOYAGE AROUND THE WORLD. ‘The Sea of Borneo and the upper part of the Indian Arches’. 1812, Sir. R. Wilson. DIARY. ‘Entering the Archipelago or, according to the sailor phrase, the Arches’.--from: M.E. arch-sea.


Arch, arch-, arc, ark, archive. A curve, a bow, a coffer; something pre-eminent, something archaic. Archaeology; the Ark of the Covenant; Noah; the rainbow. Those Roman arches at Salonika. And, today, Bosnia. Albania. The Via Egnatia. West and East; the dividing line. The tombs of the Macedonian Royal line. Mosques filled with mosaics from the time of Justinian. Sephardim.


Date of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain: 1492.

The distinctive feature of the Spanish-Jewish culture was its comprehensiveness. Literature and affairs, science and statecraft, poetry and medicine, these various expressions of human nature and activity were so harmoniously balanced that they might be found in the possession of one and the same individual...and all this under Mohammedan rule. (EB)

The Inquisition, with the conquering of Spain by the Christians in the 15th century, expelled both Jews and Moors from Spain, and introduced a spirit of may be said to have inaugurated the ghetto period...they were barred from the outside world henceforth, in their dispersion to ghettos in Turkey, Italy, France and Poland. (Ibid.)

Columbus was accompanied by at least one Jewish navigator. (Ibid.)

The Jews, continues the EB, had long before this begun to settle in Gaul, in the time of the Caesars; under Charlemagne they were more than tolerated, allowed to hold land and encouraged to become the merchant princes of Europe. The reign of Louis the Pious (814-840) was “a golden era for the Jews of his kingdom, such as they had never enjoyed, and were destined never again to enjoy in Europe” -- prior, that is, “to the age of Mendelssohn.”

Ah, me.

Their downfall and active persecution on a broad level accelerated when Christianity became the State religion of Rome in 312, says the EB, but there was still some religious toleration, depending on the Emperor, until in 553, Justinian made the use of the Talmud itself a crime. Widespread and general persecution throughout Europe exploded with the Crusades from the 11th century onward. Pope Innocent III (12th century) ordained that Jews should wear the now infamous badge; he was the first to demand it of them. “The Jewries of France and Germany (Middle Ages) were thus thrown upon their own cultural resources. They rose to the occasion.”

Christians were not allowed to engage in usury, so royal households across Europe were allowed to “hold Jews” for the purpose of filling royal exchequers. This went on for centuries. No other professional work was allowed to Jews. “They suffered moral injury in these countries by being driven exclusively into finance and trade.”

All Jews were expelled from France in 1306 by Philip IV; all were recalled by Louis X nine years later. “Such vicissitudes were the ordinary lot of the Jews for several centuries, and it was their own inner life...that saved them from utter demoralization and despair.”

The Black Death followed. Jews were accused across Europe of well-poisoning. Massacres took place. “In effect the Jews became outlaws.”

They were expelled from France again in 1394. In 1420, all Austrian Jews were thrown into prison. With the Inquisition in Spain, and the expulsion of all its Jews, they were driven from every other country, too. Fugitives...


The Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453 opened a new asylum to Jews from all over Europe. The expelled Sephardic Jews of Spain, highly cultured, founded thriving Jewish communities within the Turkish empire at Salonika.

The change came in Holland in 1579 with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht: it “deliberately set its face against religious persecution.” Maranos, those Jews who had converted to Christianity and stayed in Spain, practising their Jewish faith secretly, flocked to Holland. The pioneers of the emancipation, first in Holland, then in England, were Sephardic Jews.


In AUSTRIA, the compulsory wearing of beards by Jews was not lifted until 1781. Austria remained the most repressive country for Jews until the third quarter of the 19th century. Even as late as 1890 they were still subject to a special tax for being members of a Jewish community.

SPAIN did not repeal the Edict of Expulsion -- part of the Inquisition -- until 1858; it stood for almost 400 years. “In Spain there has been of late a more liberal attitude towards Jews, and there is a small congregation (without a public synagogue) in Madrid”: i.e., no freedom of religion followed the lifting of the Edict of Expulsion in 1858, and still had not by 1910, according to the EB. (Note: the Inquisition ended officially in 1934)

PORTUGAL, by contrast, ended the Inquisition in 1821 and gave Jews full religious freedom in 1826.

HOLLAND: gave the Jews full political liberty in 1796. The Amsterdam synagogue was consecrated in 1675, and is still (in 1910) the greatest one in Europe.

SWITZERLAND: full religious equality was not granted Jews till 1874.

RUSSIA and RUMANIA: “The story of the Jews...remains a black spot on the European record.... Restricted to the Pale,...more numerous and more harshly treated than anywhere else in the world.... Denial of free movement; much congestion within the Pale. Pogroms and massacres frequent. No civil rights; condition of abject poverty, lack of freedom of movement, and despair.”

ENGLAND: Jews finally were allowed entry into Oxford and Cambridge in 1870. When Russian Jews in 1905 began to escape to England, the Aliens Act was put into place: it was very oppressive. As a direct result, most Russian Jews came to America.

This magnificent article draws toward its close as follows:

It is saddening to be compelled to close this record with the statement that the progress of the European Jews received a serious check by the rise of modern anti-Semitism in the last quarter of the 19th century. While in Russia this took the form of actual massacres, in Germany and Austria it assumed the shape of social and civic ostracism.... The legend of ritual murder has been revived.... It is generally felt, however, that this recrudescence of anti-Semitism is a passing phase in the history of culture....

The estimated world population of Jews at the time of this article was eleven and a half million souls. The author was Israel Abrahams, Reader in Talmudic Studies at Cambridge.


One of the many q.v.’s attached to this long piece is the article on “Anti-Semitism,” written ninety years ago by Lucien Wolf, Vice President of the Jewish Historical Society of England. Immediately, I find it terribly interesting:

In the political struggles of the concluding quarter of the 19th century an important part was played by a religious, political and social agitation against the Jews, known as ‘Anti-Semitism’. The origins of this remarkable movement already threaten to become obscured by legend. The Jews contend that anti-Semitism is a mere atavistic revival of the Jew-hatred of the middle ages. The extreme section of the anti-Semites, who have given the movement its quasi-scientific name, declare that it is a racial struggle -- an incidence of the eternal conflict between Europe and Asia.... Religious prejudices reaching back before the dawn of history have been reawakened.

Anti-Semitism was then considered “exclusively a question of European politics,” its origin to be found “in the social conditions resulting from the emancipation of the Jews in the middle of the 19th century.” The author continues:

If the emancipated Jews were European in virtue of the antiquity of their western settlements...they none the less presented the appearance of a strange people to their Gentile fellow-countrymen. They had been secluded in their ghettos for centuries, and had consequently acquired a physical and moral physiognomy differentiating them in a measure from their former oppressors. This...was...not essentially Jewish or even Semitic. It was an advanced development of the main attributes of civilized life.... The ghetto, which had been designed as a sort of quarantine to safeguard Christendom against the Jewish heresy, had in fact proved a storage chamber for a portion of the political and social forces which were destined to sweep away the last traces of feudalism from central Europe. In the ghetto, the pastoral Semite, who had been made a wanderer by the destruction of his nationality, was steadily trained, through the centuries, to become an urban European.... Excluded from the army, the land, the trade corporations and the artisan guilds, this quondam oriental peasant was gradually transformed into a commercial middleman.... Finally, this former bucolic victim of Phoenician exploitation had his wits preternaturally sharpened the subtle dialectics of the Talmudists. Thus, the Jew who emerged from the ghetto was no longer a Palestinian Semite, but an essentially modern European, and that his physical type had become sharply defined through a slightly more rigid exclusiveness in the matter of marriages.... He differed from his Christian fellow-countrymen only in the circumstances that his religion was of the older Semitic form.

Unfortunately, these distinctive elements, though not very serious in themselves, became strongly accentuated by concentration. Had it been possible to distribute the emancipated Jews uniformly through Christian society, as was the case with other emancipated religious denominations, there would have been no revival of the Jewish question. The Jews, however, through no fault of their own, belonged to only one class in European society -- the industrial bourgeoisie. Into that class all their strength was thrown and owing to their ghetto preparation, they rapidly took a leading place in it, politically and socially.... It was the exaggeration of this apparent domination, not by the bourgeoisie itself, but by its enemies among the vanquished reactionaries on the one hand, and by the extreme Radicals on the other, which created modern anti-Semitism as a political force.

This is a riveting article, aimed blow upon blow with definite starting-places, dates, names, and reasons: historical and political reasons not much more than 100 years old. At the time it was considered “scientific theory,” this “anti-Semitism.” It helps, reading it now, to remember that he wrote without knowing what was going to happen in another twenty-five years. One could add a number of dates after 1910, when this was published...


This started in human ways, he means to show us. Or at least, the author is doing his very best not to bring in the issue of racism at all; nor the long history of persecution. He’s starting with the emancipation of the Jews in the mid-19th century, then showing what happened, country by country, specifically, as the Jews began quickly to succeed in the one narrow field to which they had long been restricted. He puts the finger on politics as the true source of the explosion of hatred in Germany at the time -- the politics of Prince Bismarck in 1879. Bismarck promoted violent anti-Semitism in the press for political ends, from whence it spread like brushfire over Germany.

This makes for horrifying reading. It means that our current round of anti-Semitism, culminating in the Holocaust, began as a squabble over economic policy by opposing parties in the German Bund of 1879. Bismarck needed his Conservative Party to win against the Social Democrats, who were led by Lasker, a Jew; so the Prussian quietly unleashed public opinion with an outrageous campaign in the press and in the churches. The method cynically used was anti-Semitism -- simply to ruin Lasker and his party.

So that, in the end, it was one man’s powerful and underhanded campaign against his rivals which set the tone, and paved the way for a Hitler, the modern ground having been plowed and seeded, the crop already producing, in 1880. Here it is precisely: all the moves and counter-moves -- for there were counter-moves. Immediately, for instance the crown prince and princess led the opposition against the sudden explosion, thanks to Bismarck’s maneuvering, of newly-national anti-Semitism.

And when it reached the non-political peasantry, Bismarck also backed unscrupulous agitators among them, like Böckel, who quickly fanned the flames of hatred. Horribly, this peasant-level agitation rapidly spread outside Germany’s borders into darker territory: France, Austria, Bulgaria, Rumania -- and Russia.

Here is Russia on the Eve of Easter, 1881:

The hardening nationalism above [the Slavophil movement], the increasing discontent below, the economic activity of the Hebrew heretics and aliens, and the echoes of anti-Semitism from over the western border were combining for an explosion. A scuffle in a tavern at Elisabethgrad grew into a riot, the tavern was sacked, and the drunken mob, hounded on by agitators who declared that the Jews were using Christian blood for the manufacture of their Easter bread [!], attacked and looted the Jewish quarter. The outbreak spread rapidly.... Within a few weeks the whole of western Russia, from the Black Sea to the Baltic, was smoking with the ruins of Jewish homes.... Murderous riots or incendiary outrages took place in no fewer than 167 towns and villages, including Warsaw, Odessa and Kiev. Europe had witnessed no such scenes of mob savagery since the Black Death massacres of Jews in the 14th century....

But the author is careful to point out how this is not part of modern anti-Semitism. What happened next, though, was this: Tsar Alexander used this outbreak against the Jews to distract attention from things going wrong for him economically. At once he instituted the draconian May Law, “the most conspicuous legislative movement achieved by modern anti-Semitism.” The basis for it -- indeed, its principle -- had come straight over the border from Germany. Equally oppressive laws for Roman Catholics, Moslems, and Buddhists followed shortly. These laws stayed in place after his death; his son, Nicholas, did not rigorously enforce them, until it became useful to do so: that is, when the remaining Jews organized trade unions, and became an important part of the growing revolutionary movement. Tsar Nicholas not only enforced them: like Bismarck, he set loose a media campaign of Jew-hatred, to quick effect. Result: the bloody pograms of 1905.


Here is Isaac Babel, as a nine-year-old on the day of the Odessa pogrom (“The Story of My Dovecot”*). He has just purchased his first pigeons. Looters run past him (he will arrive home later to find his grandfather murdered). On the street, he meets a pair he knows. The man is in a wheel-chair; the woman is loaded down with stolen clothes:

“What’s that you’ve got in your sack?” he demanded, and took the bag that had been warming my heart.

With his fat hand the cripple fumbled among the tumbler pigeons and dragged to light a cherry-colored she-bird. Jerking back its feet, the bird lay still in his palm.

“Pigeons,” said Makarenko, and squeaking his wheels he rode right up to me. “Damned pigeons,” he repeated, and struck me on the cheek. He dealt me a flying blow with the hand that was clutching the bird. Kate’s wadded back seemed to turn upside down, and I fell to the ground in my new overcoat.

“Their spawn must be wiped out,” said Kate, straightening up over the bonnets. “I can’t a-bear their spawn, nor their stinking menfolk.”

She said more things about our spawn, but I heard nothing of it. I lay on the ground, and the guts of the crushed bird trickled down from my temple. They flowed down my cheek, winding this way and that, splashing, blinding me. The tender pigeon-guts slid down over my forehead, and I closed my solitary unstopped-up eye so as not to see the world that spread before me. This world was tiny, and it was awful.... A piece of string lay not far away, and a bunch of feathers that still breathed. My world was tiny, and it was awful. I closed my eyes so as not to see it, and pressed myself tight into the ground that lay beneath me in soothing dumbness.


Method: agitators. In each case, in every country, the work of some half-crazed orator is sanctioned by men at or near the top of government for their own, covert political and economic expediency. Again I paraphrase the EB: The damage had poured out from Germany since the 1870s -- in every case, for this “modern” anti-Semitism -- when Bismarck, and those after him, and those in nearby countries, saw to it that the incendiary German writings, pamphlets and articles were disseminated and translated, quite on purpose. The books, the pamphlets, the newspaper articles, the inflammatory orators, and the agitators are all well known to the writer of this extraordinary entry in the old EB; he details quite a few.

The ruthless manipulation of one’s own people, exploiting their latent prejudices for economic purposes: it is a devastating picture. It is precisely what Hitler was to do.

What seemed to set the European Everyman against the Jews, and to start a pogrom every time, was the Blood Accusation or Blood Libel. Says the EB: European Christian theologians into the 20th century in Europe, the ultramontane variety, still preached (as late as 1944) that the Jews were bound by an oath to perform murder of Christians, in order to use their blood for ritual purposes. This myth had sprung up with the Crusades, and was still actively promoted by right-wing priests in Europe within our lifetime.


I’m now two long pages from the end of this compelling article. With energy and some triumph, the author builds toward what he believes is the ebbing of anti-Semitism in his turn-of-the-century world. The official anti-Semites have been governing Vienna for twelve years, but the “millennium of which they were supposed to be the heralds has not dawned.” Follows a carefully confident, civilized ending, with a note of caution for the brand new 20th century.


From Archipelago, by way of the Via Egnatia, to the Sephardim in Salonika, and thence outward.

Much to think about.

But it is midnight.

Afterward: This morning I open the latest issue of The Baltic Times, and find this small headline on the front page: DIPLOMAT ATTACKED IN RACIST INCIDENT:

Nazi skinheads attacked and beat a Japanese diplomat and his wife in the centre of the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.... Shidetoshi Kamijima and his wife were kicked to the ground and received severe blows to the face and eyes. The couple were leaving the supermarket.... The Foreign Ministry is calling it an “accident.” “This was not a racist attack,” said Dainius Kamaitis, head of the Asia and Pacific Department of the Foreign Ministry.... The gang of skinheads had also been involved in a racist incident at the football match when one African supporter, high school student Victor Diawara, was harassed and forced to leave the game early...the gang repeated fascist salutes throughout the match and other supporters joined in.

How right that Jewish delegation was, not long ago, to visit Bosnia and give moral support to Muslims undergoing genocide.

-- K. Callaway

*from Isaac Babel, THE COLLECTED STORIES. Tr. Walter Morison. Cleveland, Oh.: Meridian Books, The World Publishing Co., 1960)
April 10-16, 1997

See also:
The Artukovitch File”

The Roundtable: In the Garden


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