Sunday, 27 December 2015

Coriolanus - The Failed Politician


While not one of Shakespeare's more popular plays, I have now seen a couple of productions of it, even if one of the productions is actually a movie. Okay, a theatre production and a movie are two completely different things, and sometimes I find that I tend to be drawn towards one medium more than the other, and unfortunately, in the case of Coriolanus, I have found myself attracted to the film. I guess one of the main reasons is that with film the scope can be much larger while the play tends to be quite limited in what you are able to do. Secondly the film version of Coriolanus had machine guns and tanks (and I have to say that I love Shakespeare with machine guns and tanks). Anyway, here is the trailer for the film (simply because I have to include it in this post):


However, as tempting as it is, this post isn't actually about the movie but rather a play that was performed at the Donmar Warehouse and then shown in cinemas around the world by National Theatre Live. This did make the production a little problematic, even though Donmar didn't use machine guns (they returned to more traditional Roman dress, though I do wonder whether Shakespeare's original production also used Roman dress), since as I mentioned a stage production is a lot more limited in what one is able to do. For instance the rioters are represented by only a couple of people (as is the senate, and Volscians), which means that we have to resort to a lot more imagination. Also Donmar took quite a minimalist position using only a few props, though they did use lighting and video techniques. Once again, this isn't a bad thing, but we are forced to use a lot more imagination.

Anyway, while I generally don't embed more than one video into my posts, since this post is on the Donmar production it is only fair to include their trailer as well (so you at least can get a bit of an idea of what the production was like):




As I have suggested, this isn't one of Shakespeare's more popular plays, despite the fact that it was written during his more mature period. Mind you, it isn't that the play is amateurish - far from it - the themes and ideas are up there with the best of his works, and it is also a tragedy in the true sense of the word. However, for some reason, when I do a Google Images search, the only two productions that seem to pop up are the movie and the Donmar production (though there are a couple of others, just not many). I guess the reason for this is that in the grand scheme of things Coriolanus is actually quite an obscure figure.

Okay, Coriolanus may not be a Julius Caeser or a Mark Antony, but then again neither is Macbeth, Hamlet, or King Lear, yet these are some of Shakespeare's most popular plays (and despite many of us recognising the names of Caeser and Antony, the two plays based around them tend not be be performed, and the only film I know is this really bad production where Marcus Brutus has an American accent). I probably should mention that Bertold Brecht did create an adaptation of Coriolanus called The Plebians Rehearse the Uprising.

Anyway, it is probably a good idea for me to give you a bit of a background on the character, though if you are interested in reading Coriolanus (on the internet), you can find a full version of it here.


The Roman General

Shakespeare borrowed heavily from Plutarch's Lives, a collection of essays written in the 2nd Century AD about a number of famous Greeks and Romans. Plutarch doesn't just write a series of biographies on these characters, he also compares one of the Greeks with one of the Romans (though he doesn't always do this). The thing was that I was expecting Plutarch to compare Coriolanus with Thermistocles, since both of them were great generals who were exiled from their respective cities, however when I glanced at my edition I discovered that he actually compares him with Alcibiades. The more I think about it though the more I feel that Alcibiades is probably closer in character than Thermistocles (Alcibiades was a rat bag that had the habit of rubbing people up the wrong way, despite the fact that he won his fare share of victories).

The Rome of Coriolanus is actually quite early in the piece. While the government had been established, with the addition of the tribunes, who would speak for the people of Rome, the city-state was still very much that - a city that ruled only a small area of the Italian peninsula. At the time Italy was mostly a collection of independent city states that would regularly be at war against the other, which brings us to the opening of the play.



At the beginning of the play Rome is at war with a neighbouring city state - the Volscians - but is also suffering a food shortage. In fact there is a significant amount of unrest as the people of Rome protest at the ever increasing price of corn. It is here that Coriolanus shows his true colours - namely that he is an enemy of the people and that the people are not deserving of grain due to their lack of military service (which was a bit of a catch because you couldn't actually join the army unless you were a property owner). We then jump to the city of Corioli where Coriolanus battles with Aufidius and the Volscians, and wins.

Coriolanus  returns to Rome a hero, and during the proceedings is nominated to the role of Consul, Rome's highest office. However there is a catch - the people of Rome have to agree to accept him as Consul. As such Coriorlanus (actually, his name is Caius Marcius, but after defeating the Volscians he is given the title Coriolanus, namely because he defeated the city of Corioli) must do something that he is incredibly loathe to do - beg the people for his vote. He succeeds, however he does have enemies, in the form of the tribunes of the people - who quickly sway the people's opinions back against him.


The problem is that Coriolanus once again shows his true colours, and when he is denied the consulship, he rages against the people and their representatives the Tribunes. As such they turn against him even more and vote to exile him, with the support of the Senate. As such, without a home and without the people he turns to the only other people that he knows - the Volscians (which is why I thought Themistocles was a more suitable comparison as when he was exiled from Athens he went and joined their mortal enemies - the Persians). At first Aufidius is a bit hesitant to let Coriolanus into his ranks, however when he discovers that he has been rejected by Rome, and that Coriolanus seeks revenge against his humiliation, he allows him to join.

As such Rome suddenly faces one of their greatest challenges to date - a rouge general. Coriolanus, now leading the Volscians, goes to war against Rome and is securing victory after victory, and despite numerous pleas, he refuses to change his course - that is until he is confronted by his wife, his mother, and his son. Where his former colleagues failed, his family succeeds, and Coriolanus lays down his arms and withdraws.

Big mistake.

Aufidius and the Volscians not only see this as a sign of weakness, but also betrayal, and after a vicious argument they kill him for his treachery, and thus the play ends.


The Fickle Mob

While there are a number of common themes that seem to run through Shakespeare's tragedies, one that tends to stand out in this play is the fickleness of the people. I remember discussing Shakespeare at one of my book club meetings and there was an agreement amongst us that Shakespeare really doesn't seem to like ordinary people. In fact he seems to have a very low opinion of democracy, namely because where the mob rules then chaos reigns. Whenever we see the mob appear in Shakespeare they are always portrayed as this riotous and destructive force that tends to create a chaotic mess.

Okay, Shakespeare's England was hardly an autocracy - there was a parliament that the Monarch had to put spending decisions before, however it was nowhere near the modern representative system that we have today. Parliament in Shakespeare's time was still made up of aristocrats and wealthy landowners - the ordinary people really didn't have all that much say in how the government should run, and if they rioted then they would be brutally suppressed.


However this was not necessarily the case in Ancient Greece and Rome. Sure, in the beginnings Rome was ruled by the landowners, but after numerous revolts the position of the tribunes were established to speak on behalf of the people. Yet by establishing this position the problems of having to deal with the mob quickly arose. It was clear that Coriolanus had a distinct dislike of the common people - as far as he was concerned they were crude, brash, and contributed very little to the state - an opinion that he seems to share with Shakespeare. Yet he reluctantly agreed to continue with tradition, put on his rags, and to beg the people for their vote.

The problem is that the people are very easily swayed. Along with his contempt for the people, it is very clear that Coriolanus also holds the tribunes in utter contempt as well - since they represent the people they are no better than the people. Coriolanus is a soldier, but he is not a politician, which means that he is prone to speak his mind. The tribunes pounce on this flaw and easily persuade the people to turn against him and vote him down.

This is the thing with the mob - they are easily swayed. Okay, maybe Shakespeare wasn't as familiar with Greek History than he was with Roman (he couldn't read Greek - though he did have access to Plutarch's Lives, which did include the Greeks), but we see this problem arise within Athens, which inevitably lead to their downfall - by giving power to the mob you open them up to being swayed by whatever fine sounding speaker comes along. The mob is swept up by the words of this master orator, and end up handing power over to the orator, usually to their peril. Mind you, we still see this today - consider Obama's 2008 election campaign, and Donald Trumps current campaign - both reached out to touch the mob in a way that makes them respond, and then persuades them that by giving them their support then their lives will be much better. Okay, Obama's worse crime in that regard is that he gave the people false hope, however we have seen similar great speakers cause much more damage to their respective countries - Hitler and Lenin are prime examples.


The Soldier Politician

I would say that it's not all that uncommon for military leaders these days to enter into the political sphere - the current Governor General of Australia, General Peter Cosgrove, was in the military, and there were rumours that General Colin Powell would run for the position of president of the United States, however it is nowhere near the extent that it was in the ancient world. Mind you, when you think of it, one of the qualities that successful general exhibits is the quality of leadership, which is probably why Ulysses S Grant and Dwight D Eisenhower both became president of the United States after winning their respective wars. Also, it wasn't as if the United States suffered under their leadership either (though with Cosgrove, his position is purely ceremonial).

However, as I mentioned, in the Ancient World it generally went without saying. For instance in Ancient Athens if you were a citizen then it was expected that you would have at some stage fought in one of their wars. Even when they were at peace there was still some battle waging somewhere. The same was the case with Rome - propertied landowners generally spent time in the legions, and if they were successful positions in the Senate were readily available. Furthermore, if you had managed to rise to the rank of General then you would more likely than not find yourself with fair amount of clout (though I should mention that in Athens the position of general was an elected position).


However, just because you were a successful soldier does not necessarily mean that you would be successful in the political sphere - it takes a certain type of person to be a successful politician. It is clear that Coriolanus was not one of those people. For instance he was more than willing to speak his mind. In fact one of his major traits is that he does not mince his words. Unfortunately having such a trait is not suitable for a politician. Okay, Tony Abbott did manage to become Prime Minister of Australia, however we all know (at least those of us in Australia) what happened to him.

I don't think Shakespeare is necessarily criticising the role of the military in government, though we must remember that by the time he was writing his plays the era of the warrior king had passed. Mind you, that era wasn't long past since the Hundred Years War, and the War of the Roses, was still fresh in the minds of the people. However by the time Shakespeare came along the monarchs had abandoned their tents for their palaces, and would conduct their wars from the safety of their Presence Chamber (there would be no more King Henry V marching out at the front of his armies to confront his enemies in battle).

It was clear that Coriolanus was a great leader - he was brave and he was willing to risk his life for his men. When he invades Corioli he abandons his troops and charges into the city to confront Aufidius in hand to hand combat. In fact it is his wounds that he sustained, having come out of that battle covered in blood, that he shows as proof of his ability to be a great leader. Sure, for a time the wounds spoke wanders for him, but in reality he was not fit for the world of politics. It wasn't long before the tribunes managed to turn his supporters among the populace against him, and in doing so revealed that the only way he knew how to confront his challenges was through anger.


A Fatal Flaw

I have to say that I am one of those people that tend to reject the idea of the fatal flaw as being the centre piece of Shakespeare's tragic heroes. Sure, one can't get more tragic tham Coriolanus (well, okay, you can), but I still feel that maybe the fatal flaw is a bit too simplistic to characterise the hero's downfall. However, is it possible to actually point to one single thing in Coriolanus to say that it was this that resulted in his downfall? Personally I don't think so because like many of Shakespeare's characters there is a lot of complexity therein. I actually think that there are a number of aspects to his character that all together lead to his untimely demise.

  1. His open contempt of the plebians was no doubt going to cause problems, however he did manage to humble himself and bring them over to his side - so we can't put that down as a fatal flaw;
  2. His inability to mince words is only one part of his character, and while that did create animosity, it was not so much to the extent that his contempt of the people did;
  3. His uncontrollable rage certainly played a significant part in him being expelled from the city, however once again that is only another aspect of an incredibly complex character;
  4. His betrayal of his homeland with his journey to Corioli to join forces with Aufidius is hardly a character flaw but rather a response (and a natural one at that) to him being rejected by his country men;
  5. His desire for revenge once again would hardly be considered a character flaw namely because this, once again, was in response to his rejection;
  6. His strong connections to his family only come out at the end, and while his choice to withdraw his troops from Rome brought about the anger of the Volsci's, this did not necessarily put him in that position in the first place, therefore I cannot consider this to be his fatal flaw.
Once again, by considering the nature of the play, and the complexity of Coriolanus' character, I have to reject this idea of a single fatal flaw as being the main reason for the hero's demise. In a way, much like Hamlet, he is a victim of circumstance, and also a victim of his own internal struggles. There isn't one aspect to his character that we can point to and say 'hah! fatal flaw!', but rather aspects of the character as a whole and the situation that he finds himself in. Sure, the idea of the fatal flaw may be enough to pass a highschool essay, but I feel that if we are to grow in our understanding of Shakespeare and the characters that he created, he must throw away this concept and start looking at the play, and the character, as a whole.

Oh, and while I said I wouldn't do it, I simply cannot help but throw in a picture of Coriolanus with machine guns.



If you are interested in other opinions, there is an excellent review of the play on Shakespeare Solved.


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Coriolanus - The Failed Politician by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If use wish to use the creative commons part for commercial purposes, please contact me directly.


Sunday, 20 December 2015

Napoleon's Final Hour - Failure at Austerlitz


I've just finished reading a book on the French Revolution of the Napoleonic Wars entitled Revolutionary Europe 1785 - 1815 (and you can also read my review of the book here, namely because I discuss, albeit briefly, some ideas that I won't be talking about in this post). Anyway, I have to say that the author, George Rude, seemed to gloss over a number of important events, one of them being the Battle of Austerlitz. In fact this is what he says:
(Czar) Alexander, who had taken command of the Austro-Russian forces, fancied himself as a commander and was easily persuaded by an incompetent chief-of-staff that Napoleon was in a weak position and could be defeated. Infatuated with the prospect, he let himself be lured to the village of Austerlitz in Moravia, where Napoleon, in the most decisive of his victories, cut his army in two and inflicted a loss of 27,000 men.
I have to say that I was a little disappointed, especially since Austerlitz is one of those battles that military historians have studied ever since, and is one of those battles, on par with Canae, which demonstrated the effective use of military tactics to overcome a much more powerful army. However, despite Napoleon's tactical genius, I am still of the opinion that when it comes to war there is still an element of luck, and I have to say that even in this battle (as in number of others) the cards managed to fall Napoleon's way (which wasn't the case with Waterloo).

Actually, what was interesting was that when I looked at a couple of other military history books on my shelf (including one that focused on battles), Austerlitz bearly made a mention. Sure, Trafalgar and Waterloo where explored, but then they were battles in which the English won, however I would argue that these two battles did not have the same effect upon the history of Europe that Austerlitz did (well, okay Waterloo nipped Napoleon's second empire in the bud, but that is another story for another time).

Anyway, what I wish to speculate about here is what would have happened if Napoleon had not come out on top, and in fact what would have happened if he had been defeated at Austerlitz. However, before I go down that road, we need to take into consideration the background (since history does not occur in a vacuum) and then at the battle itself.

End of the Monarchy

Napoleon - The Short Dead DudeThere was a time in my life that the only thing that I knew about Napoleon was that he was some short guy that had conquered Europe, and that he was a laughing stock in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. I knew that he had lived, that he was this great general, and that he was short, but that was basically about it. Anyway everything suddenly fell into place when I returned to High School and took up Modern European History. The thing with Napoleon was that he had come to power at the end of a rather turbulent decade, the decade of the French Revolution. I won't go into too many details here because the revolution is incredibly complex and would take too long to look at all aspects of it. However, as we probably all know, it came about when the absolutist Bourbon Monarchy was overthrown and a Republic was established.

Anyway, while the causes of the revolution are complicated in and of themselves, in really all boiled down to one thing - money. You see, the government of France didn't have any (they had blown it all on pointless wars). So, the government came up with this radical idea - raise the taxes. However there was a catch - the aristocracy, who pretty much formed the government, considered themselves to be exempt because, well, it was their money anyway and they had better things to spend it on, and the church was, well, the church, so they were automatically exempt (as they still are). So there was only one other group to get the money from - everybody else. The problem was that everybody else considered this to be incredibly unfair, so they went and formed their own government, the National Assembly, and basically sidelined the monarchy.

The Tennis Court Oath
And it all happened in a tennis court

To cut a long story short, over the period between 1789 and 1800 France went from one failed government to another, and it was become increasingly evident that the monarchists where slowly returning to power, much to the disappointment of the public (there had been a period, known as the Jacobean Terror, when heads were being lopped off left, right, and centre, all under the pretext of defending the revolution), so one day Napoleon, who had by this time risen to the rank of the commander of the army, staged a military coup and took control of the French Republic.

The thing with the monarchy though was at that time it was like one big happy family. All of the monarchs in Europe where somehow related, so when the Bourbon dynasty was toppled, this upset many of the other monarchs in Europe (though the English took a back seat for a while because they actually liked the fact that France was in chaos), so to help out their colleagues that had been deposed, they eventually took up arms. This war continued, intermittently mind you, right through to the end of Napoleon's reign.

Napoleon Confronts his Enemies

Napoleon had not risen to his glorious heights through luck - he was a very skilled general and had won victory after victory (with the exception of a failed Egyptian expedition - though he did recover the Rosetta Stone that was the key to unlocking Egyptian Hieroglyphics), but many of them were in Italy. At that time Italy was basically a collection of states, and fairly weak ones at that. However they were under the control of the Holy Roman Empire, which was based in Austria.

As Napoleon had inherited a war from his predecessors, and being a general as well, you could say that he was addicted to battle (which was ultimately his downfall). He had already defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Ulm, however the coalition (I don't like using the term allies because that gives us the idea that there is a 'good' side and a 'bad' side, and I would hardly consider Napoleon to be a brutal dictator - especially since he wasn't the only dictator running around Europe at that time) was still trying to prosecute the war. What Napoleon needed was a decisive victory. He had already captured Vienna, but it appears that taking control of the capital was not enough.


Being the cunning strategist that he was, Napoleon knew that simply charging the enemy wasn't going to work, especially since the Austrians had just been reinforced by the Russians. Instead he made it appear that he was quite weak, and even withdrew from one of his strategic positions (as well as making his right flank appear weak). Instead of charging at his enemy, he lured his enemy to him, which ended up giving him the advantage. The coalition forces decided to strike at where they believed Napoleon was weakest - his right flank - which ended up being a huge mistake. Napoleon exploited this by attacking at the centre, and eventually splitting the Coalition army in two and resulting in the decisive victory that Napoleon wanted.

Battle Map

It is interesting how strategists seem to like to create the illusion of weakness to draw in a more powerful foe. The Greeks and the Carthaginians did this as well, though they created a weak middle which would retreat, drawing the army in and allowing the flanks to attack from either side. No doubt the generals during the Napoleonic Wars were more than familiar with these tactics, so Napoleon went for something different - divide and conquer. Instead of entrapping the army as the Greeks and Carthaginians did, he split the army in two, allowing him to attack two weaker foes. Anyway, in case you are wondering, here is the location of where the battle took place (modern day Czechoslovakia):



Also, the Wikipedia article is much, much more detailed than what I've said here.

The Empire Collapses

Well, things may not have gone Napoleon's way, or he may have even made a rather stupid move (which is unlikely), but let us consider what would have happened if Napoleon had been defeated. He had already been defeated once, in Egypt, but that was more of a failed expedition as opposed to a decisive battle. This was supposed to be a decisive battle, but in this timeline Napoleon was defeated. While he suffered a huge defeat in Russia years down the track, Napoleon had already become entrenched, and he was still able to raise another army to continue the war. At this stage of his empire, it was still young, and such a defeat would have been a huge blow to his career.

Having been defeated by a combined Russian and Austrian Coalition, Napoleon suddenly discovers that his allies in Germany have deserted him, the people of his conquered territories begin to rise up in revolt, and his political position back home very precarious. Embolded by their victory, the Coalition press their advantage, with their original goal of restoring the Bourbon dynasty. They quickly retake Vienna, and Napoleon returns to Paris to lick his wounds. However the Coalition do no leave it at that - they decide to march on Paris, especially since the original goal of the war was to overthrow the Republic and avenge the execution of Louis and Marie-Antoinette.


Upon returning to Paris, Napoleon discovers that he is basically no longer in charge. He is removed from his position through another coup-de-tat, this one headed up by the royalists (who are receiving support from abroad). As Coalition troops march into France, the French put up little resistance, and the remnants of Napoleon's government are arrested, put on trial, and executed. In short, the monarchy is restored, and the Napoleonic empire is dead even before it was born.

Europe after Napoleon

To say that the Europe of this timeline is much different than ours is an immense understatement. First of all the Holy Roman Empire is never destroyed, and continues to dominate central Europe as it had done for centuries. The ideals of the French Revolution are never spread beyond its borders, and the entire bloody decade of the 1790s is simply viewed as a failed experiment. This means that the revolutions of 1848 never occur, and Louis Napoleon never becomes president of France. In fact, for quite a some time, the monarchical systems remains purely entrenched.

Otto Von BismarkThe thing with the Napoleonic Wars is that it gave rise to a new movement across Europe - Nationalism. With this movement we see the rise of the nation states such as Germany and Italy. By removing the Holy Roman Empire as an effective power meant that the idea of a national identity began to develop. In fact what the French Revolution did was to remove the idea that the people were the subjects of the king and gave them the idea that they were French (or German, or Italian). Cunning rulers would use this sense of nationalism through the 19th Century to unite people under a common cause and common identity. Sure, nationalism existed in one form or another prior to that, but what the French Revolution did, in removing the monarch as the head of state, gave the people a sense of actually belonging to a nation.

Another thing that Napoleon did was to create what is known as the Napoleonic Code. This was a series of civil laws designed to effectively govern the country. The Napoleonic Code is still in use in France to this day. If you are familiar with law you will know that there are two forms of civil law - common law and the civil code. Common Law is what is known as judge made law, in that judges decide cases based on previous decisions. The civil code provides guidelines for judges to determine the outcome of the cases, and while in common law countries (England, America) the judges look to case history to make a decision, in the civil code countries the judges look to the code. The thing with Europe (at least continental Europe) is that they are all covered by a civil code - which they inherited from Napoleon. Where ever Napoleon went conquering, he would establish a republic and set up a code based upon the code that he established in France. Prior to that cases where generally decided based on the whim of the rulers. In this alternate timeline, Napoleon's complex civil code would not have been exported to the rest of Europe.

No doubt over time things would have continued to change - Prussia would have once again sought to expand its control over Germany, and the Holy Roman Empire would have continued to weaken. However the Bourbon dynasty would have been much more entrenched. Sure, pockets of resistance would have arisen, and in time the monarch would have been forced to establish a form of constitutional monarchy (especially if he had not learned from the mistakes of his predecessor). By this time the Holy Roman Empire was already weakening, as was the influence of the church. However it is unlikely that the France of today would have such a secular stance. More likely than not, modern day France would still have a king (assuming that the World Wars didn't break out, but with Prussia's imperial ambitions, this would have been unlikely - Germany would have reached a point where they would have become a threat to European stability).


The colonial land-grabs would no doubt have continued, but since England didn't have to put huge amounts of resources into fighting Napoleon, the empire would no doubt have grown much faster. In fact they probably would have been seen as the new threat to European stability. There would have been no Congress of Vienna after the war, which England managed to dominate, and as such they would have found themselves, once again, facing the threat of a united Europe attempting to prevent them from becoming too powerful. When the War of 1812 broke out in North America, France would not have been embroiled in a war on the continent, and would have been able to provide more support for the Americans. However it is also unlikely that they would have sold their North American terriories. In fact, it is quite possible that the United States that we know today would not exist - a large part of the North American continent would be controlled by the French - thus no wild west, no western and, unfortunately, no Fist Full of Dollars.

This would have severely changed the outlook of the American Nation. It was the Louisana Purchase that created the idea of manifest destiny, and the desire to conquer the land from 'sea to shining sea'. Yet the French territories were in the way, and the only way they could have taken them would have been to go to war with France. If they were to have done this they may have found themselves suddenly embroiled in European politics. The reason they were able to fight Spain was because Spain was weak and nobody came to their aid. Sure, they may have been able to  take the Louisiana Territories, but it would have suddenly revealed their imperialist ambitions. This would have come to the attention of the European Powers, and possibility even brought together an alliance between Britain and France to put a stop to this. No doubt England was itching to get back her lost colonies. Of course, there was still the war of 1812, which the English won, despite being caught up in a war on the continent. Without having to split her resources, England could have put more resources into the field, and instead of just burning the Whitehouse, could have occupied Washington, and established a puppet regime.

The Alternate Timeline

So, with these speculations above, let us consider the scenario as it would play out in our new history:

Napoleon is defeated and returns to Paris where he is arrested. The Coalition then invade France and re-establish the Bourbon Dynasty. France, having been burnt by the failed revolution, agrees accept the new king, however Louis XVII, who has learnt from his father's mistake, agrees to establish a parliament based on the English model. Louis takes the executive role, while parliament takes the legislative role. The Napoleonic Code is retained however, and the voting franchise is restricted through a property qualification. The French republic is no more.

Hostilities in the United States results in an invasion of Canada, which brings a swift rebuke from the English. Not being constrained by a war on the continent, the British navy manages to field a lot more troops and quickly takes Washington. Congress is closed down and the president deposed. British troops once again occupy North America. A vice-roy is established and martial law is imposed. However this is to prove to be a drain on British resources and a guerilla war ensures. Britain, despite its colonial possessions, needs to continue to send in troops to keep order. This has an effect in preventing her imperial ambitions elsewhere. As such Britain never conquers India, and never manages to penetrate China.

After thirty years of war, Britain finally decides to pull out of North America, which results in the United States gaining control of Canada. However the United States is still restrained by the Louisiana Terriorties to the West. Despite driving out the British, the United States is tired of war, and chooses not to move west. As such it only exists on the East Coast of North America.

While all this is happening, a new ruler arises in Prussia, and through political manoeuvring, manages to unite the German provinces. Prussia declares independence from the Holy Roman Empire, and war once again ensures. However this time Prussia manages to retain its identity, and over a period of a decade the Holy Roman Empire begins to disintegrate. Germany thus arises as a dominant power in Central Europe. This in turn results in an alliance between France and Russia, who feel threatened by the rise of Germany, and a state of cold war ensures. Eventually this breaks out into a hot war, as it did in our timeline.

Elsewhere, Britain is forced to scale back on her colonies. The Boars in South Africa take control of the Cape Colony, and France, who has successfully recovered from the revolution, expands her empire to eventually take control of India and South East Asia. Instead of the sun never setting on the British Empire, it turns out that it is France. In fact it is France that begins to make headway into China, establishing colonial trading settlements. However, since the United States is prevented from expanding west, she never establishes a presence in the Pacific.


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Napoleon's Final Hour - Failure at Austerlitz by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Defy the State - Sophocles' Antigone

Antigone Title

I was sitting outside a coffee shop in Melbourne one morning and a tram trundled past advertising a production of the Sophoclean play Antigone. Knowing that Melbourne trams have the really bad habit of advertising plays that have long since finished I jumped onto the internet and to my absolute delight discovered that it had yet to begin. I have only ever seen one Ancient Greek play performed in my life and that was an amateur production (though it wasn't all that bad - its just that amateur productions tend to be a little different - the actors wander amongst the audience beforehand practising their lines), so I decided to immediately book my tickets.

I probably shouldn't be surprised that you don't see many Ancient Greek plays performed (other than the fact that since I'm in Australia the number of professional productions tend to be very small due to the size of the audience and the number of plays that are being produced every year - they tend to focus on the more contemporary Australian productions) since there is generally a lot of background involved that is not covered in the plays (Greek plays tend to be quite short). Also, because not many people are that familiar with Greek plays the audience tends to be even smaller.

Anyway, like most Greek plays, there is quite a lot of background to Antigone, and while the Chorus does outline what has happened beforehand, to the original audience much of the story was common knowledge.

The Tragedy of Oedipus

Antigone falls into what is known as the Theban Cycle - a series of stories in Greek Mythology that chronicle a number of tragic events that strike the city of Thebes. The whole sorry mess begins when the king of Thebes, Laius, is given a prophecy that his son will kill him and proceed to marry his wife. Being the type of person who takes prophecies seriously he proceeded to break both of his son's legs and then leave him exposed on Mount Citheron (a common practice back in those days when you didn't want a child). While Laius thought that that was the end of it, it wasn't since a shepherd found the baby and took him to Corinth where he became the adopted son of the King. However, one fine day when Oedipus was wandering out in the country he learnt that he was going to kill his father and marry his mother. Thinking that the King and Queen of Corinth where his legitimate father and mother, he decided to flee.

Oedipus and the SphinxWhile travelling through the country he accidentally meets Laius, who demands that Oedipus step aside so that he may pass. Not being one to succumb to demands from arrogant strangers, he draws his sword and kills Laius. He continues on his travels to arrive at Thebes where he discovers that the city is being terrorised by a sphinx who kills anybody that can't answer the riddle. Being a rather smart fellow, Oedipus gives the correct answer and then proceeds to kill the sphinx. As a reward he marries the Queen of Thebes, namely because her husband was killed while trying to find somebody to save the city.

They have a pretty happy marriage for a while, and even give birth to two children, however one day it comes to light that the guy that Oedipus killed was the husband of the woman that he has married. Even more disturbing he then learns that that guy happened to be his father, and the fact that that guy was married to the queen of Thebes meant that he had married his mother. Oedipus was absolutely horrified, proceeds to gouge out his eyes and then retires to Colonus in exile. Jocasta (the queen and Oedipus' wife/mother) is just as horrified and hangs herself.

Mind you, the story doesn't end there because Oedipus leaves behind two sons, Etocles and Polynices (and Jocasta has another son - Creon). They also have a daughter, Antigone. Anyway, instead of simply nominating one person (usually the oldest) to ascend the throne they do something really, really strange - they allow Etocles and Polynices to share the throne, each ruling for a year, with Etocles being the first. However, as can be expected, when the year came to an end and Polynices came to take his place, Etocles basically told him to get lost. Not letting his brother push him around Polynices went off, raised an army, and stormed the city. In the ensuring battle Etocles and Polynices killed each other, leaving Creon to take over the throne. Considering Polynices to be a traitor, Creon ordered that he should not receive a proper burial but rather to be left exposed and to be eaten by the crows and other animals.

Melbourne Production

A Modern Rendition

I probably should not have been surprised to discover that the production that I saw was an interpretation of the original play. While I suspect it may still be performed as it was originally written, these days not as many people are familiar with a lot of the Ancient Greek concepts that the audience would have understood. While the idea of keeping the corpse exposed was retained, much of the play was rewritten. For instance the director had completely dispensed with the chorus. Once again I shouldn't be surprised since retaining the chorus means that you will need a few more actors, and that can make the play somewhat more expensive to produce. While I would have liked to have seen the chorus retained, especially since it does play the role of the narrator, I can understand why it isn't.

Exposure of PolynicesThe idea of keeping a corpse exposed as punishment isn't something that is as familiar to us today, however it still happens. For instance corpse would be hung for the public to see as a warning not to do what the corpse had done, however these days we will still generally bury bodies - not so much for spiritual reasons, but more because of hygiene. In the Ancient Greek mind this worked both ways - it would act as a warning to others not to rebel against the state, but it was also a form of punishment as well. The Ancient Greeks viewed death much differently than does the modern mind and proper burials were reserved only for good citizens. Such a burial would serve as a memory of the individual and their lives. As such, because Polynices was decreed to be a traitor, such a burial would be denied and he would be cast out into the wilderness to be forgotten.

Greek PlateIn a way the fact that Creon had decreed that Polynices should not be buried is a minor point. What it does do is create a catalyst for the conflict that arises within the play - the question of who should be owed the greater loyalty, one's family or the state. Further it is not a question of whether Antigone loved one brother more than the other - Polynices was still her brother, and the familial attachment meant that she wanted to also give him the proper burial rites. Consider this in our modern mind - a beloved member of the family dies and the state then steps in, takes the body, and forbids us to hold a funeral or even a wake - we are to forget them and pretend that they never existed. This would be doubly traumatic for all who are involved because not only have they lost a loved one, they are not even permitted to give them the traditional farewell.

Authority of the State

It was interesting viewing this modern interpretation because the questions that plagued the original audience still plague us today. In a way the director wanted to create the impression that this could, and was, happening in 21st century Australia. In fact we are seeing this happen more and more as the government of the day is doing all it can to prevent people from criticising its actions, which includes going so far as to imprison journalists for writing about certain things. Mind you, this has not stopped the leaks from pouring out of the government's meetings, but it is working to silence opposition.

We see this a lot with the right-wing conservative movement who wave their flags and demand that anybody who is not happy with the way things are run to go and find themselves a new home. In a way they see that the state, and the established order, should not be challenged, and anybody who questions a decision made by the government are traitors and should be dealt with accordingly. Mind you, that does not mean that they automatically accept whoever is elected as the government. If we look over to America we see that there is a lot of rage being levelled against the Obama administration - and I would hardly call them left wing radicals - all he wants to do is to set up some form of universal health insurance. In a way it is not a question of accepting the government, it is a question of accepting only one form of government and one ideology.

The thing is that this form of government believes that for the community to be safe then the state must be secure. It is not a question of freedom, it is a question of security. The arguments that are put forth is that if security is lax then our freedoms are in danger, therefore to protect our freedoms we must let the state implement its form of security - it is very Orwellian in character. By allowing the state to increase its power our freedoms aren't actually protected, but rather sacrificed on the altar of order and security. I guess this is one of the dilemmas of the modern democracy - we want our freedoms, but we also want to be safe, therefore we must try to find a balance. If we lean towards freedoms then our security is at stake, however if we swing back towards security then our freedoms are at stake.

Take the metadata retention laws for instance. The internet, as we all know, is an untameable beast and governments are quickly coming to realise how dangerous it can be. As such they wish to be able to disrupt the potential that it has for criminal and terrorist organisations to use it to their advantage. What it means is that the internet ceases to be a way of private communications. However what they don't realise is that such organisations have been profiting long before the invention of the internet. The government didn't intercept snail mail, nor did they monitor every single meeting that occurred. However, what the internet has enabled them to do is to be able to more effectively keep tabs on what the ordinary person does, just in case that person may pose a threat to the stability of the state.

A Government in Crisis

Let us also consider this - Thebes had been through an incredibly tumultuous period. It began with the descent of a monster, then the murder of a king, then a devastating infertility plague, and finally a civil war. The city state had effectively collapsed and it was up to Creon to attempt to bring back order. The last thing Creon needed at this time was for somebody to defy his orders. By exposing Polynices, Creon was asserting his authority to demonstrate that rebellion would not be tolerated. Thus, when Antigone went and buried her brother, against the explicit orders of the state, something had to be done. He simply could not let Antigone get away with it - if he had done so his authority would have been brought into question.

Antigone - The Traitor
Then there was his son - he had taken Antigone's side in the argument. This was even more disastrous, and like Antigone's rebellion, this also had the effect of undermining his rule. Fortunately for him his son ended up taking his own life. Yet this action strikes at Creon's heart - he had just lost his son, yet if he were to maintain his leadership, and not to show any weakness, he had hide his grief (and while this may not have been the case in the original play, it was the case in this production). As such, at the end of the play he also turns his son into a traitor, giving him the same fate that faced Antigone.

In the end it all boils down to one thing - economics. That is why we have this push for security in the modern state. When a state is in chaos the economy suffers - businesses to not want to invest in an unstable state, to do so would mean that they would lose their investment. When businesses invest they do so to make money, not to lose it. A stable government and a functioning state not only attracts investment, but also creates a return on that investment. That is why there is such a push for security in the modern world, and the the claim that the state is supreme. In the modern economic world, it is not the individual that counts, it is the return on the investment. It doesn't matter if a single person is taken out of the equation, but rather whether society as a whole is spending money. It is not a question of individual freedom, it is a question of economic freedom.

The Vulnerable Citizen

One thing about the production that put me off was the fact that for most of the play Antigone was naked. A part of me though that this was unnecessary. Okay, she wasn't completely naked (she wore skin coloured shorts), but the intention was that she was supposed to be naked. However, at the end of the play, when Creon's son committed suicide, he was also naked and a part of me realised that the director was trying to bring out an idea by using nakedness. The thing is that nakedness represents two things: shame and vulnerability. The thing with shame is that nakedness brings it upon oneself as opposed to those around them. In any case European society is not a shame based culture, so the idea of Antigone's actions bringing shame on her family isn't something that would resonate with us - we see everybody as being responsible for their own actions, and as such families tend not to be put out by the actions of one of their members (and even then they tend to disown them).


Antigone's Vulnerability
However vulnerability is different - when we are naked we are vulnerable. We are exposing our innermost selves to the world at large. One of the reasons that we clothe ourselves is because our clothes offer us some form of protection, whether it be against the elements, or the leering eyes of those around us. In a way by removing our clothes we feel weak and prone to exploitation. This brings out one nature of a sexual relationship - we remove our clothes in front of each other because we are willing to make ourselves vulnerable towards each other. Okay, I know, there are lots of instances where people remove their clothes in front of complete strangers, but what I am suggesting is that it doesn't happen as often as one thinks. Consider the stripper for instance - do many people actually have very high opinions of them or their profession? Consider those who have suffered the indignity of revenge porn - many of them feel exposed, vulnerable, and exploited - as if their innermost secrets have been broadcast for the world to see.

The thing with Antigone is that before the state she is weak, helpless, and in effect vulnerable. The state, in the form of Creon, is all powerful and does not recognise any individual merit. It does not matter that Antigone is a member of the royal family, just as much as it is irrelevant with regards to Polynices. Both of them are traitors, and both of them deserve the same fate. Antigone is punished with death, but it is more so, especially in this place - she is banished to an island where she will be executed and forgotten. Like her brother, her name will be purged from the annals of Thebes. Against the power of the state she is weak, she in vulnerable, yet despite that she continues in her act of defiance. In doing so she meets the same end as does her brother.

The Cult of Empire

Okay, there have been lots of examples throughout history of the state taking the form of the deity, even so in the modern era. However the thing with the all powerful state is that it does not tolerate any dissent, or any foreign ideas. This was no more true than in Ancient Rome. On the face of it Rome appeared to be a tolerant society that accepted people from all walks of life. In fact it was an incredibly multi-cultural community. However there were limits - dissent against the government was not tolerated and would be put down appropriately. There are numerous stories of various cities and territories going into revolt which resulted in a swift reprisal against the guilty parties - Bodecia in England, and the Jews in Palestine are prime examples.

However there was another group that caught the unfortunate eye of the empire - Christianity. They were seen as a threat not simply because they worshipped a foreign god - there were many foreign gods being worshipped in Rome, whose followers also participated in secret rituals. In fact one of the common threads throughout religions of that period were the secret rituals. The problem with Christianity was that they refused to accept one simple rule - pay due respect to the emperor.

It was not that they were actively rebelling against the established rule - the Bible commands them to pay due respect to the government of the day (something that many Christians in the modern world seem to fail to be able to do) but rather they refused to worship the religion of the state. To the Romans this was dangerous, simply because the civil religion - the cult of the state - was what gave society its cohesion. The thing with the Christians is that they were unable, and unwilling, to accept any god but their god - the state included.

The problem with the state is that it cannot tolerate any form of dissent, even if this dissent is passive. Since the Christians refused to worship the emperor, the state saw this as a danger as it threatened to unravel the cohesian of the state, and as a result brought their full force against it in an attempt to stamp it out. Similar things have happened in the modern world were minority religious groups have faced persecution simply because they are different. The state maintains its authority not just through fear, but through the belief of the subjects that they need its protection. The teachings of the early Christians stood against that, refusing to fear the state, and knowing that ultimately the state was not able to protect them. Maybe the Romans were right to fear Christianity since some have suggested its rise led to the eventual collapse of the empire.

The Unsung Executioner

To put it simply Antigone is a hero. It is not that she stood up to the state and prevailed - by no means - it is that she had balls to draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough. She was willing to stand by her convictions and say to the state that there was a limit to their powers, and a line which they should not cross. Sure, the state ignored her and crossed that line, executing her in the process, but the thing is that the story of Antigone prevailed. It is the same with many martyrs throughout history - the state sought to silence them, to prevent them from standing up for what they believed in, to punish them for daring to hold a contradictory view - however despite their deaths, their views prevailed.


It is not that Sophocles wrote a great play by any means, but rather that out of all of the plays that he wrote this one survived. In fact out of all of the plays written by the Greek tragedians, this was one of the handful that has passed down through the ages to still be performed today - Creon failed in his task - Antigone was not silenced, nor was she forgotten. Nor is it a play of Shakesperian character - in Shakespeare's mind Antigone is the villain: she had the audacity to stand against the state and to rock the boat. In Shakespeare's mind this was anathema. If you read enough of his tragedies you will see that the common thread through many of them is that by defying the state you upset the natural order of things and death and destruction abound. In any case it was not as if Sophocles actually created anything - the story was a part of the Greek Canon long before he arrived on the scene - he just turned it into a really successful play.

Throughout history there have been many martyrs that have followed in Antigone's footsteps, who have refused to cower in fear of the power of the state. Some, such as Martin Luther, prevailed. Others were not so fortunate. Yet like Antigone, their legacy remains, their willingness to stand up for what they believed in, to let the state make an example of them, have elevated them to the mists of legend while their executioners have vanished into obscurity. She is a hero to all of those who fight against an oppressive government, who will not let go of their beliefs in the face of death, who say with confidence 'I will bury my brother!'.


 
Further Reading
The Economist, not surprisingly, has a brilliant piece on Antigone.
Another review of this particular production appears on Sometimes Melbourne Theatre.

Creative Commons License
Defy the State - Sophocles' Antigone by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If use wish to use the creative commons part for commercial purposes, please contact me directly.




Sunday, 6 December 2015

Exoplants - The Worlds Beyond


While I had heard about the discovery of the first planets beyond our solar system I hadn't really been keeping up with the news of such discoveries, despite the fact that I do really like my science fiction. Sure, there are planets orbiting stars that aren't our sun, but considering the distance that one has to travel to actually get to the closest one I didn't see much point in paying huge amounts of attention (but then again that was back before the internet where most of our news came either through the television or the newspaper and if we wanted to find out more we have to go to dedicated scientific journals).

However, as I was perusing through some of the rather interesting short videos on the internet I came across this one:



The first time I watched it I said to myself 'gee, that's interesting' and then continued on with my daily life. I knew that they had worked out if a star had a planet around it, but hadn't thought all that much about it beyond that. I then watched another couple of videos about planets on Youtube, and the two planets that kept on coming up were the planet made entirely of diamond and the planet where glass rains sideways.

Hold it, I said to myself, how do that know that this planet is made entirely of diamond, and that there are constant glass storms on this other planet - aren't they like light years away? Surely we don't have a telescope that is that powerful? Well, the answer to that question is that a lot of it is speculation, or probably the better description would be an educated guess. However, it still left me wondering how they could find out so much about these planets when not only are they so far away, but we can't actually see them with a naked eye.

The Discovery

PulsarWell, as with everything that I am curious about my first port of call is none other than Wikipedia. My first impression when I began to read through the article on exo-planets (the term used for planets that don't orbit the sun) was that it must have been written by a scientist. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if this article was regularly updated by scientists working in the field (which I have to say it would be pretty cool to get paid to write wikipedia articles). According to this article, the first planets were discovered in 1992 orbiting a pulsar (which is a highly magnetised rotating neutron star and it receives its name by the electro-magnetic pulses that it sends out), however the first planets orbiting what they call a main-sequence star (namely a star that hasn't exploded or collapsed) was in 1995. Mind you, with the technology that they had at the time the only planets we could detect where those around the size of Jupiter (and since these planets were really close to the sun they took the name hot jupiter), however that has since changed with the launch of the Kepler telescope in 2009. To date 1953 exo-planets have been discovered in 1250 planetary systems (though that could have increased since I original wrote this).

So, the question is - how do they find them? Well, as with a lot of things they resort to the use of light. The thing is that light is absolutely amazing - it is more than just that warm glow that emanates from an electric filament that prevents us stubbing our toes or banging our knees as we walk across a room (though we still need to look where we are going). In fact light, or more precisely the electro-magnetic spectrum (which is a scientific word for light, though it goes beyond what is known as the visible spectrum) is the basis of modern communication. You know that little wi-fi symbol you see at the top corner of your phone and computer? Well, it is light that allows you to magically connect your computer with the modem on the other side of the room without the need of a cable. In fact it is light that allows you to dial a number on your mobile phone and speak to somebody on the other side of the world. So, as you are probably aware, light does a lot more than simply allowing us to see.

The electro-magnetic spectrum
Now, there are two types of objects in the universe (and this is probably one of the very few places that you can actually categorise things, though somebody is probably going to pop up and prove me wrong): Luminous and Reflective. Luminous objects produce light, such as a star, and reflective objects reflect light (obviously), such as a planet. As such, when something passes between you and your kitchen light (such as a moth) then the moth will cast a shadow across the room since the moth is reflective. The problem is that a star is this massive light sitting on top of a building a kilometre away from you, and the planet is like a moth passing in front of that light - basically you won't be able to see it with the naked eye. This is known as a transitioning (namely when the planet passes between us and the star). However, being the clever people that they are, the scientists managed to tweak their telescopes, and after a long time searching, finally discovered their first planets.


Okay, so they found a star with some planets around them - what next? Well, they had to work out what these planets were like. Once again, being the clever people that they were, they figured out a few things. First of all reflective objects are quite funny - they don't just reflect light, they also absorb light. So, you know that blue book that I assume is sitting on your desk, well it absorbs all of the light with the exception of the blue, which it reflects - that is why you see it as blue. Now, because of these funny things that light does, scientists are able to actually read the light signals that are coming from these places and as such are able to speculate (or make educated guesses) on the make up of these planets.

Oh, and there is another strange phenomena that I recently discovered. Planets don't just orbit a star, their gravitational pull will actually make the star move around a point in space. You know how you were taught in school that the sun was the centre of the solar system? Well it turns out that, once again, your teacher was wrong. No, the centre of the solar system is actually a point in space that the sun moves around, as can be seen in this gif below.


Transiting Planet

I won't go into too much more detail about how they detect the exo-planets and how they work it out, but if you are interested you can always go to the Wikipedia article (though it is incredibly technical).

The Kepler Experiment

Well, scientists being scientists weren't simply happy to look at the stars from the comfort of the Earth, they wanted something more powerful so they could attempt to find more stars with more planets, so they managed to convince the government to give them a heap of money so they could send a telescope up into space with the explicit purpose of finding planets (and why the government was happy to give them money, though happy is probably not the best word since I suspect the scientists had to do a lot of grovelling to get that money, I'll explain a little later). Anyway, they named this space telescope Kepler, after the guy that worked that those strange stars bouncing all over the night sky were actually planets orbiting our sun, and sent it up into space to continue their research.


Anyway, the idea was that Kepler would sit in orbit around the Earth looking at a specific point in the sky and collect data from the stars that sat in its field of view. Okay, while it may only be looking at one small spot in the sky we have to remember that in that one small spot there are an awful lot of stars, and sure enough as soon as the telescope opened it started receiving all of this information. In fact as of January 2015 Keplar has discovered over 1000 exo-planets with 3600 unconfirmed planetary candidates (meaning that there might be a planet around that star) and 2100 eclipsing binary stars (stars which orbit each other).


Unfortunately for the scientists in 2012 one of the reaction wheels (which are used to keep Kepler pointing at the same area of space) broke down, and while it could still operate and be useful, in 2013 a second wheel broke making it all but useless. However, all was not lost for in the three odd years that it was up there it had managed to collect an enormous amount of data which I suspect that scientists are still trawling through.

Kepler Solar Array
The problem was that simply seeing something pass in front of a star does not necessarily mean that there was a planet there, which is why Kepler needed to continue to point at that section of space. To be able to determine whether there was a planet orbiting the star (or as it has turned out, stars - yes, there are planets like Tatooine orbiting two stars out there) the transition had to occur at regular intervals.  This worked well for planets with small orbits, but the longer the orbit, the more time you needed to be able to watch the star. For instance Jupiter takes twelve years to complete one orbit of the sun and Saturn takes twenty nine years. Just because something transitions past a star does not necessarily mean that we are seeing a planet orbiting it.

If you are really interested in the technical aspects of the telescope check out the Wikipedia article.

So Who's Paying?

The government of course. NASA, being a government agency, pretty much receives all of its funding from the government (though I'm sure the private sector helps as well, especially if they are using it's services, but then again when it comes to government departments everything they earn tends to go back into the government coffers). NASA was initially created because the Soviets were beating the United States in every aspect of the space race, though putting that first satellite in orbit sort of gave the government a major impetus to get on board. However now that the Russian's are gone, the need to get the better of them has sort of disappeared.

However, that one satellite that the Russians flung around the planet has pretty much changed the world that we live in. The fact that we have literally mapped every corner of the Earth (even though we haven't visited every corner of the Earth) is thanks to the space race. These satellites have made this modern world of mobile phone technology (and electronic surveillance) a possibility. However, like most things, if it wasn't for the Russians, nobody in the US government would have seen any economic benefit in attempting to conquer space, and would have left it as is.


However, what economic benefit is there in looking at a bunch of planets orbiting other stars? To find another Earth of course (though the fact that at our current technology by the time any spaceship actually arrived the entire crew would have died of old ages doesn't seem to stop them). Sure, searching for resources might be a possibility, except that with the planets in our solar system the need for resources is a moot point (and while I believe seeking resources off world would be a much better option than digging up our own planet, there doesn't seem to be a huge amount of will to take that step), but finding another Earth-like planet is basically the goal of this mission (though since much of the data that we receive from the planets allows us to basically make educated guesses doesn't seem to stop the hunt).

Some Interesting Discoveries

Well, what I might finish off doing is looking at some of the planets that Keplar has discovered and saying a few things about them. Pretty much all of this information comes from Wikipedia, but as I've said before I write for pleasure and try not to write as if I'm some sort of encyclopedia. Once again, you can find the full list of exo-planets on wikipedia (I suspect the NASA scientists probably update it). Oh, I'll also be giving these planets my own names because, well, the names that the scientists give them are rather boring, but I will list them by their official name (as well as linking it to the page).

Keplar 9b - PrimusKepler 9b: I'll call this planet Primus, not because it was the first planet discovered by the Kepler Mission, but because it is one of the first (and looking at the list on Wikipedia it is the first one you can click on to open a page). Basically it is a gas giant, but it is slightly smaller than Saturn, and shares the system with another planet (named, ironically, Kepler 9c). The other interesting thing about this planet is that it demonstrates a property known as orbital resonance, which basically means that the gravity of it and it's sister planet act upon each other to maintain their orbit around the star.

Gliese 1214b: I don't have to give this planet a nick-name because the scientists have already done this for me - Waterworld (though don't expect to find Kevin Costner running around on it's surface). They call this planet a super-Earth because it is bigger than Earth, but nowhere near as big as the gas giants. Okay, this thing about being a water world should be tempered with the words 'most likely candidate for' because the scientists haven't actually determined it's exact composition. However what they can say is that it is probably cooler than many of the other planets, and that it is suffering what they believe is atmosphere loss (meaning that the atmosphere of the planet is leaking off into space). By the way it happens to be only 45 light years from Earth, but considering it would probably take us centuries to actually get there, that minor thing probably doesn't help all that much.

HD 154672 b: Okay, maybe I'm not the best person to go around naming planets, but for the sake of it lets call this place 'Magnesia'. Why? I really don't know - it was the first name that popped into my head (though I'm sure people are going to start getting really stretched if they start giving all these planets proper names - which is probably why they resort to numbers - they are even resorting to naming stars after ordinary people, for a price of course). Anyway, this is what you call a Hot Jupiter (more on that later) as it is a gas giant that happens to be bigger than Jupiter. Other than the fact that this planet has a decent sized entry on wikipedia, it also has a rather strange orbit. While the orbit is elliptical, it also happens to bounce about rather erratically. Oh, the star apparently has a lot of metals in it (determined by using various scientific instruments) so this planet is of interest to see if the high metallic concentration in the star has an effect on the planet.

OGLE-TR-10b: - This rather large planet is another example of a Hot Jupiter, and can be found orbiting a star in the constellation of Sagettarius. While I could give it a name sticking with the nomenclature standard of using Greco-Roman gods, I think I will grab a name from Dungeons and Dragons and call it Mephitophenes (who happens to be a demon in the Judeo-Christian mythology). Even though I have provided a link to the Wikipedia entry on hot Jupiter, I'll say a few things about these planets here. The reason they are called hot Jupiters is pretty straight forward - they are gas giants (not necessarily larger than Jupiter) that orbit pretty close to their star, meaning that they are really hot. This planet is probably really close because apparently it's orbit takes something like four days. Oh, and if you are wondering about the name, they come from the telescope that discovered the planet (in this case the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment, or OGLE for short - I wonder if they came up with the abbreviation before they came up with the name?).

Gliese_876_b: This planet was detected differently to the others - rather than picking it up when it passes in front of the star, it was detected through it's gravitational pull, which means that we know a lot less about it than some of the other exo-planets. Okay, you may then ask why I have a picture of it - well, that's because somebody created one, though I'm sure painting a picture of an unknown planet is not too hard - you just create a circle on some random drawing program as fill it in (though these artists do a much better job than I would). Anyway, this planet is of interest because it sits just outside the habitable zone of the star, the zone where scientist theorise that they might find a planet that is habitable like Earth. In fact they refer to it as the Goldilock's zone - it isn't too hot and it isn't too cold. However, Gliese 876 B (which I'll call Eurora for some unknown reason) is a gas giant, so scientists are speculating that its moons might actually be habitable. Okay, it sits just outside of the zone, but they believe that the zone is slowly moving outwards so, in maybe a million or so years, it might become habitable. Still, it's a little bit too long to wait around - they probably should look elsewhere.


HD 189733b: Lets call this planet Tempus (after another god from Dungeons and Dragons, though Ed Greenwood stole that name from Norse Mythology). Why? well this planet is famous for the fact that it rains glass sideways. Okay, that's probably misstating the property of the planet a little because more likely than not it is one whopping great big storm in which tiny shards of crystal fly around at incredible speeds, similar to how incredibly strong gusts of wind can pick up objects and send them tumbling down the street (or to put it more precisely, the way storms in deserts pick up the sand and send it spinning around - I've been caught in a dust storm and I have to say that it is not a pleasant experience). Surprisingly they know quite a lot about this planet, right down to its colour. In fact it is the first exo-planet that they have managed to work out its colour. They have even apparently mapped out it's surface to some extent. Anyway, the reason they say that it is one huge storm is because they believe that the planet is tidally locked, meaning that one side is always facing the star. This causes that side to heat up incredibly, but the far side becomes incredibly cold. Anyway, as the hot air rises this causes the colder air to move in to fill the vacuum causing the pressure on the far side to drop, which the hot air then moves in to fill up. Oh, I also noticed that the discovery of this planet has also appeared on some news sites.


55 Cancri e: I'm going to call this planet 'De Beers' namely because it is allegedly made of one huge diamond and if Michael Alcubierre manages to get us there with his warp drive then it is going to completely bankrupt them (the only reason diamonds are so valuable is because of the perception that there are so few of them, or at least so few of them available for sale - a planet made entirely of diamond is pretty much going to cause the price to fall out of the bottom of the market). Okay, they don't actually know whether it is made of diamond or not, it is just that they suspect that is it is possibly made of carbon which means that the pressure in the centre of the planet is going to cause the graphite to turn into diamond. It is actually the first super earth to be discovered around a main sequence star (basically a super-Earth is not a gas giant, and is bigger than Earth). Fortunately for De Beers, the planet is 40 light years away so we won't be getting there any time soon.


HD 209458 b: This planet actually has a name, even though that name is unofficial, but they call it Osiris. The reason this planet has been given a name is because it represents a number of firsts. It was the first planet detected by the transiting method, the first planet detected through more than one method, the first planet known to have an atmosphere and an atmosphere with not only both oxygen and evaporating hydrogen, but also the first planet where water vapour was detected. It was also the first planet to be detected spectroscopically, to have it superstorm measured, and also the first planet to have its orbital speed detected. Well, I'm sure there are a few other firsts for this planet, but I'll leave it at that. I just wanted to mention it because it has a name.

PSR_B1620-26_b: This is another planet that's been given an unofficial name, and it is the only planet (so far) that has received a Biblical name, which is Methuselah. The reason that this planet is called Methuselah is because it is really, really old (just as Methuselah was reported to be the longest living human recorded, at least in the Bible). Anyway, this planet orbits a pair of stars, one of them a white dwarf, the other a neutron star that spins really, really fast (otherwise known as a pulsar). This planet wasn't discovered through the transiting method, but rather due to doppler shifts against the white dwarf. Since planets generally don't survive supernovas (which give rise to neutron stars) Methuselah is believed to have originally orbited the white dwarf but was pulled into the orbit of neutron star afterwards.

Anyway, while I could probably write a lot more on exo-planets, I will probably call it a day here (since I have written quite a lot already, and have a lot of other things to do as well - anyway, I guess my fascination with exo-planets has begun to wane since I started writing this post). If you are really interested in this topic, then there is lots of information on the internet, however I guess my interests have been hijacked by other things now.


Creative Commons License
Exoplants - The Worlds Beyond by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

"EM spectrum". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
 "Exoplanet Comparison GJ 1214 b" by Aldaron, a.k.a. Aldaron - Own work, incorporating public domain images for reference planets (see below), inspired by Thingg's size comparison. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
"OGLE-TR-10 b and Lagoon Nebula" by Tyrogthekreeper (talk) - I (Tyrogthekreeper (talk)) created this work entirely by myself.. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons
"Gliese-876 b" by JohnVanVliet - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons 
"Artist’s impression of the deep blue planet HD 189733b" by ESA/Hubble. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons
"55 cancri e (Celestia)" by Kirk39 - Celestia. Licensed under GPL via Wikimedia Commons