Johns Hopkins Magazine - June 1994 Issue

Humanities & the Arts

Research Findings and News

A matter of perception, etc.

When the tax collectors went on strike In 1648, a revolt in France began not with the common man raising a fist against authority, but with royal tax collectors refusing to do their jobs. This strike by members of the government eventually grew into four years of rebellion, violence, and political instability that is the subject of a new book by professor of history Orest Ranum, entitled The Fronde (Norton, 1994).

The title refers to a slingshot, which became the symbol of this rebellion and lent it its name. The Fronde was a complex revolt of several stages against the regent Anne of Austria (the mother of King Louis XIV, who was only 10 years old at the time) and her chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin. France had been at war with Spain for many years, and the peasants had endured several years of poor crops. Taxation by the Crown to pay for the war had become increasingly onerous, and the royal collectors, who lived among the peasants and understood their plight, finally refused to collect the Crown's levy.

When the royal Council of State tried to coerce the collectors into doing their jobs, the Fronde spread to Paris as much of the judicial administration rallied to support the strikers. Judges of the principal law court there, the Parlement, refused to hear cases and ignored a royal edict ordering them to resume; judges from the Great Council, Chamber of Accounts, and Court of Excises followed suit.

When the Council of State ordered the arrest of prominent judges, the revolt spread to ordinary citizens of the capital, who took to the streets, threw up barricades, and fired shots at royal troops. Soldiers led by the war hero Louis II de Bourbon, the Prince de Cond‚, then blockaded the city, trying to starve the rebels.

Rouen, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Aix experienced similar popular insurrections. In 1650, the Prince de Cond‚ switched sides and led his own princely revolt against the Crown. It took the monarchy four years to reassert its fundamental authority to govern. The Fronde was the last serious challenge to the throne until the Revolution in1789.

In The Fronde, which he says is the first book on the subject written in English in 65 years, Ranum tries to explain the revolt from several viewpoints: that of the rural peasants, the rebellious Parisians, the Parlement, the Council of State, and the group of princes led by the Prince de Cond‚. "It's a book about perception as much as reality of action," he says. "Historians are supposed to stress what is true, and perceptions are not always easy to discern. [But] I wanted to say that perceptions are very real. The study of politics is not just a study of what is said and done, but of how people perceive what is said and done."

He offers as an example an incident in August 1648, when a high-ranking bishop in Paris went into the streets and walked among the barricades, exhorting the rebellious citizens to be calm. The bishop believed he was helping to restore order by soothing the crowd. When later he entered the Palais Royal, however, he found that Anne of Austria was furious with him. From her vantage point, she thought he had been inciting the crowds to greater rioting. --Dale Keiger

Why not make drums?

Suspended over the winding central staircase in John Millen's geodesic dome is a circular ceremonial drum. It's a big one--over five feet in diameter, with a head made from steer hide and painted bright red and blue. Millen (Peabody '65) calls it "ThunderHeart," and when he strikes it with a mallet you can feel the air collide with your body as the drumhead rebounds from the blow and vibrates.

Millen makes drums for a living, all kinds of drums that have exotic, evocative names--djembes, ashikos, tars, dombaks, bodhrans. He makes Native American drums, Persian and Celtic and Aztec drums. He's a one-man company, ThunderHeart Drums, and he turns out his instruments in a woodshop in the lowest level of the dome, which also serves as his house, in West Baltimore.

He became a drum maker after simply deciding one day that he could do it. That's how he seems to approach life. After graduating from Peabody, where he had studied the trumpet, he dreamed of building a sailboat. So he did, a 35- foot trimaran. In 1969, with a half-hour's instruction in celestial navigation, he set sail for the U.S. Virgin Islands. His crew consisted of a man who claimed to be a nuclear physicist but turned out to be a car salesman--"He was a total fraud, but a delightful guy," Millen says--and a woman who left her psychiatric residency at Sheppard Pratt in Baltimore to make the journey.

About seven years ago, after a difficult divorce, Millen joined a men's support group. One day, the group decided that it needed drums. Millen had built his trimaran, and the geodesic dome he lives in, and custom cabinets, and even wooden bathtubs. Why not a drum? He took a plank of cypress from an old distillery vat and set to work. "I made one, then another, then another," he says. "Then I started reading about it." Word of his ability spread, and soon Millen began making drums for hire. It's been his living ever since: "I've been paying the bills from the first month."

A ThunderHeart drum is not cheap: they range in price from $110 for a 14-inch shamanic drum to $575 for a Persian dombak. But each is handmade from carefully researched designs, in beautifully finished birch, red oak, djem (an African wood), cedar, or mahogany. When Millen takes a tar in hand and taps on it, the sound is surprisingly complex, with layered overtones and striking volume. He taps it again, listens to the rich note, and says, "That's what I like to build into a drum." Several professional musicians own his instruments, including Glen Valez, Ysaye Barnwell of the group Sweet Honey in the Rock, and members of the reggae band Jah Levi and the Higher Reasoning.

Though he studied the trumpet, taught piano and has sung for 14 years in the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, Millen lacks one musical skill. After he taps a few times on one of his djembes, he sets it down, shrugs, and says, "I'm not a drummer." --DK

Food as a lingua franca

Ancient Judaism was riven by sectarianism during the centuries between the completion of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New. From 500 B.C.E. (how scholars now designate what used to be called 500 B.C.) to 50 C.E. (formerly A.D.), Jewish sects such as the Essenes, Zealots, Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, Sicarii, Therapeutae, and Nazarenes lived in contentious proximity, arguing over the meaning of the word of God, each laying claim to the truth, each searching for the means to define themselves as members of a group.

Anthropology professor Gillian Feeley-Harnik has studied this period from a culinary perspective--not to determine what people ate, but how they used food as a lingua franca and a means of establishing their identities and those of their neighbors. In her new book, The Lord's Table: The Meaning of Food in Early Judaism and Christianity (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994), Feeley-Harnik studies why and how sectarians used dietary rules, eating rituals, and parables about food to address ethical questions.

She first explores the diversity of Judaism during this period, placing early Christianity in the context of one Jewish sect among many. As an anthropologist, she says, to understand these people one must try to grasp how they analyzed their world and expressed themselves in this time of religious ferment. So she marshals evidence, from the Bible and other writings of the time, for the importance of food as a means for Jews to express the relationship of people to God, to express holy law. "The following of dietary laws made you a moral person," she says. She cites as an example Leviticus 20:20-26: "I am the Lord your God, who have separated you from the peoples. You shall therefore make a distinction between the clean beast and the unclean."

To transform the law as expressed in Old Testament scripture, she says, early Christians had to work in the tradition of their time. As Jews, she says, they would have been accustomed to midrash, or rabbinical commentary on Scripture, and would have resorted to it naturally for their reinterpretive purposes. She argues that for their midrash, they used stories about food.

"Their debates had to do with interpretation of God's words, the meaning of words," she says. "What you find when you go back to these debates is again and again the language in which these debates are expressed is that of food." By working within this tradition, she adds, they could also appropriate for Jesus Christ a sort of legitimacy.

For her primary example of Christian midrash expressed in terms of food, she analyzes the Last Supper, the basis for the Eucharist. "The Eucharist was unusual, even shocking, at the time of Christ," she says, principally because of the notion of drinking blood. "Why did early Christians choose to represent their beliefs in such an extraordinary meal?" She answers this question by reading the Eucharist as a symbolic representation of salvation, patterned after--but significantly different from--the Jewish Passover food ritual, which represents the story of the Jews' redemptive journey out of Egypt.

"The Eucharist is a redefinition of sacrifice," she says. "Every critical element in the Passover is reversed." For example, she notes that Deuteronomy commands that the Passover sacrifice must be offered at the temple in Jerusalem; the Last Supper occurred outside the temple at a place taboo according to temple law. She writes that the Passover feast celebrated kinship and nationhood. In contrast, the Eucharist expresses the death of family and polity for the sake of a new covenant with God that includes all peoples. --DK

Two decades of art

After retiring 20 years ago as president of the Maryland Institute College of Art, Eugene Leake came to Hopkins to teach a course on life drawing. That course marked the birth of the Homewood Art Workshops, which today offers credit courses in drawing, painting, cartooning, and two-dimensional design. Now retired, the 82-year-old Leake continues to paint landscapes at his Monkton, Maryland, farm. Madonna Winter (1979), left, was one of 19 of his paintings displayed in an exhibition at Homewood on April 16.

"Ordinarily we show student work in our spring show, but since this is the 20th anniversary of the Homewood Art Workshops, it seemed appropriate to feature the Maestro," explains Craig Hankin, current director of the Workshops and a former student of Leake's. The exhibition kicked off a fund-raising effort for the program, which has its studio in the basement of Merryman Hall. "Most of our easels and chairs are at least 20 years old, and we could really use some new light fixtures," says Hankin. Contributions can be made through the office of Dean Larry Benedict, 118 Merryman Hall, Homewood.

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