The Pirates Are Coming

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“The HISPANIOLA still lay where she had anchored; but, sure enough, there was the Jolly Roger–the black flag of piracy–flying from her peak.” 
 Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

 Caribbean

Pirates, the very name strikes both dread and fascination deep within our hearts.  We fear them, because of their ruthless disregard for those who stood in their way of fortune and fame.  Good folk trembled when they heard their bloodcurdling shouts or saw the Jolly Roger flapping in the brisk sea wind.  And yet, we continue to view those who wore the jaunty tricorne hat, the black eye-patch and the flamboyant, tattered clothes, as a symbol of freedom.   For those of us who have not experienced the terrifying visage of a “real” pirate, we enjoy the adventures of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and the more recent movies like Errol Flynn’s, “Captain Blood” or Johnny Depp’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” series.

Pirates have been with us since ancient times.  During the Greek and Roman civilizations, the Thracians, Tyrsenians, Illyrians and Phoenicians were the known source of the dreaded pirates.  In fact, the “pirate” term comes from the Latin pirata and from the Greek piera meaning “to attempt.”  Even Julius Caesar was captured by notorious pirates who demanded a ransom of 25 gold talents.  Affronted by the low value placed on his life, Caesar insisted that the ransom should be 50 gold talents.  The pirates received the higher amount, but in the end they realized their mistake when Caesar hunted them down.

This week, I want to explore the ‘golden age’ of piracy within the comfort of a safe environment.  What are the myths and facts? Was there really buried treasure?  Why did men and, indeed, women, chose the pirate’s life?  We are on another sea adventure, so batten down the hatches!  We are heading to open waters.

“Life’s pretty good, and why wouldn’t it be?  I’m a pirate, after all.”

Johnny Depp

There Are More Stories

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“A baggepype wel coude he blowe and sowne,

And ther-with-al he broghte us out of towne.”

Canterbury Tales, General Prologue

The Hightlands

According to Suetonius, a Roman historian during the early Imperial era of the Roman Empire, Nero played a type of pipe known as the Roman reedpipes, “with his mouth as well as his armpit.” In fact, some suggest that he played the pipes, rather than the fiddle, as Rome burned.  Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales makes specific reference to the Miller being able to play the bagpipes. Early folk bagpipes found their way into paintings by Brueghel, Teniers, Jordaens and Durer.  The Irish had píob mhór, which means, in Gaelic, Great Irish War pipes.  Vincenzo Galilei, the father of Galileo, wrote that  the bagpipe “is much used by the Irish: to its sound this unconquered fierce and warlike people march their armies and encourage each other to deeds of valour.” 

Bagpipes tell the story of the world.  Bulgaria has the kaba gaida, Southern Italy, the zampogna, Turkey, the tulum, Galicia the giata, Southern India, the sruti upanga, Sweden, the säckpipa; all of which bears witness that bagpipes have roots in many traditions.  It is a global instrument that continues to gain entrance into modern music. There is a greater narrative that continues to unfold.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.
Robert Burns
My Heart’s in the Highlands