Monthly Archives: June 2021

Where Is Mategosa?

You won’t find Mategosa on a map. Not a recent map, at any rate. There are Medieval Venetian maps and 16th-Century Ottoman charts that show the Isle of Mategosa, but modern-era cartographers either don’t know about Mategosa and leave it off – or they know full well about Mategosa and the trouble that could arise from putting it on a chart, so best to leave it off.

I was in Trieste harbor back in 2017, and I remember approaching the port authority to see navigation charts for where the Isle of Mategosa is. There’s no island on the map, just a “navigation hazard” that most shipping lines go neatly around… but it’s also the only navigation hazard that has a small number of shipping lines actually terminating on it.

I asked a worker at the port authority about getting passage to Mategosa. He was set to retire soon, so he had a certain candor in his speaking that others were too early in their careers to have. I recall his knowing smile and comments along the line of, “I can’t tell you that, but I can.” I asked him if that was the case just in Trieste. No, he said, it’s that way all around the Adriatic. Italian, Slovenian, Croatian, Bosnian, Montenegrin, and Albanian ports – all of them have no official way to get you to Mategosa, but you can still get there if you need to.

So what’s the best way to get to get on a boat that arrives at the navigation hazard in the Northern Adriatic Sea? Well, experience has shown me that the best way to get there is to be a regular commuter. If one is in a habit of going to and from Mategosa, one tends to stay in that habit. But what about the casual visitor, drawn by tales of the ancient Roman playground for the wealthy, romances of Crusader pirates, or glimpses of the glitterati? How do tourists get there?

The good news is that it is very easy to get to Mategosa, once you know how to understand the system that is in place. The caution is that it is also very easy to get to Mategosa the wrong way, so you have to be careful about your travel arrangements.

Let’s cover what not to do first. Do not walk up and down the fishing piers, asking if any of the boats are going to Mategosa. You might very well find a boat that will take you there, but you might either pay a price that is ultimately too high or become permanently entangled in lines of business that will always keep drawing you back when you think you finally found a way out.

Do not walk into a ferry terminal and ask for a ticket to Mategosa. You will be flatly told that there is no such place. You will also be marked as a possible international police inspector or some other kind of busybody and the ferry operators’ network will likely blacklist you up and down both sides of the Adriatic. One of the most important rules of Mategosa is never asking the wrong questions about it. Asking for a ticket to Mategosa is one of those wrong questions.

To properly get to Mategosa, do go to the right kind of ferry terminal. One that advertises cross-border or trans-Adriatic service is the right kind of terminal. Local-only terminals will either lack service or offer it only to people that they recognize. In the international terminal, do not look for a ferry by its listed destination, look instead for ferries by their departure and arrival times. Where you see a ferry that has a departure time but no arrival time, that is the ferry to Mategosa. Depending on distance, fares for the ferry will range from 70-100 Euros. Go with established, recognized ferry firms, such as Jadrolinija, Gomo Viaggi, Kompas, or Venezia Lines.

Travel time to Mategosa from most major Adriatic ports is at least 5 hours, and from Pescara or Split, it can be 10-11 hours. I do not recommend boarding a ferry to Mategosa from a location further south. In most cases, it’s faster to take the train to Ancona in Italy or Split in Croatia and then board the ferry there. Nevertheless, if you must get to Mategosa directly from Bari or Durres, you can find passage on a recognized carrier in the manner described above. Be advised, however, that travel times will be much longer – you’ll likely be on a sleeper – and that the ferries depart less frequently than those in the Central or Northern Adriatic.

Do not expect Adriatic cruise ships to make any stops at Mategosa: Mategosa is one of the rare Adriatic islands not hugging the coastline, which is the domain of the cruise ship. Moreover, there would be some potentially severe legal entanglements for cruise liners to make a Mategosan port of call, so they will treat it very much as a “navigation hazard”, even though the hazards are purely ones of international law.

There is a causeway to Mategosa, but you do not want to travel to Mategosa by car. I will say no more of this except to re-iterate that if you arrive in Mategosa by any means other than a legitimate ferry service, you will most certainly not be a tourist. A word to the wise is sufficient.

Once you debark from the ferry, expect to be greeted by the smiling, but abrupt, natives. Most folk speak a blend of Dalmatian, a Romance tongue that is extinct everywhere else in the world, and Chakavian, the dialect of Serbo-Croatian most common along the Dalmatian and Istrian coast. Mategosans often know enough English to help tourists get to basic attractions, but prefer to conduct their business affairs in these obscure dialects. The reasoning behind that preference goes back several hundred years, back to when Mategosa became notorious as a base for uskoci pirates.

Now, if you want to know why Mategosa is not on any map, do not ask any Mategosan. At best, they will treat your question with quiet contempt. There is a certain cultural pride in their obscurity being a given, and they are tight-lipped about their national secrets. Do not also ask any boat operators, for reasons noted above. They will sail to “nowhere”, pause, and then turn around, no questions asked. Ever.

The answers to that question that should not be asked are to be found in Nacionalna i sveučilišna knjižnica u Zagrebu – the National and University Library in Zagreb. They are in the Library of St. Mark in Venice. They are in Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi, the Ottoman State Archives in Istanbul. They are in the Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, the Austrian State Archives in Vienna. And you will find those answers not by asking about Mategosa – that is a good way to get no information – but by asking roundabout questions about general information regarding the Central/Northern Adriatic region, with particular reference to endemic trees that people enjoyed in the past.

When you understand that in the patois of the mystery island, “Mategosa” translates as “tree we enjoy”, you will understand why that reference noted above begins to unlock the secrets of the place. And Mategosa is indeed home to a catkin-bearing chestnut tree species that is unique to that island, so if you don’t want to be sent to the botany section, be sure to mention “in the past” in your questioning, so that you are led to the part of the archives that have the maps with Mategosa on them… and the papers explaining why it had to be removed.

The Social Tragedy of King Noah

For a range of chapters in Mosiah, starting with chapter 11, we see the people of Zeniff now led by his son named Noah. In common views of King Noah, he is held up as a scenery-chewing Big Bad Wolf sort of character, lush in his Orientalist despotism, surrounded by ostentation and sycophants, as illustrated by Arnold Friberg’s famous painting, “Abinadi Before King Noah.” But it’s all too easy to just say that Noah was bad and leave it at that. He ordered the death of a prophet, right? Isn’t that bad enough?

Not really. The lesson of King Noah shouldn’t be “don’t kill prophets” and no more. It’s easy enough to say that and then ignore it: “well, so-and-so wasn’t really a prophet…” No, the lesson of King Noah runs much deeper and becomes even uncomfortable to read as we see parts of ourselves or our society depicted in opposition to the earnest strivings of the prophet, Abinadi.

Straight away, we are told that Noah did not keep the commandments of God, but had many concubines. There is a temptation to say, “OK, don’t also commit adultery. Got it.” But that is not the full lesson of Noah. After all, anyone can commit adultery and still repent. The tragedy of David is not that he committed adultery, but that he abused his power as king to arrange the death of a loyal subject in order to cover his sin. The adultery is bad, the cover-up is worse, the murder horrific, but worst of all was the abuse of the power and authority that David held. Was not David anointed of God to be the king? And with that sort of set-up, how much worse it was for David to behave as other kings. He was supposed to be better than that.

And indeed, we see worse for Noah in the next verse. He raised taxes on his people. Too many stop there and say, “Right, taxes are bad. Moving on.” No, that is not right, either. Under the Law of Moses, it was the duty of a righteous people to provide a just government. When I first read that, it halted my sympathy towards anarcho-libertarianism. It is the duty of a righteous people to provide a just government: taxes are therefore justified. Taxes are justified not as a necessary evil, but as a necessary good. Noah, however, raised the taxes to directly benefit himself, his family, and his closest supporters, not to benefit the poor. That is how he “changed the affairs of the kingdom.” This is the line Noah crosses. Up until this line, he was just personally responsible for his evil. When he institutionalizes the abuse of power for the benefit of a privileged few, he creates a situation in which the nation falls under condemnation.

That’s what we see in the Friberg painting: a rich elite that is leading their nation to its doom being contrasted with the simple, threadbare prophet of God. This is also where things become more uncomfortable for us. How close are we to King Noah in terms of our wealth and what we do with it? If we exploit loopholes or benefit unjustly from unfair laws or practices, we are more like Noah than Abinadi. When we give freely to those in need and search for ways we can help – not just be ready if called to help, but to actively search for ways to help – we are more like Abinadi than Noah.

The wickedness Noah brings on his people is outlined in how the tax money is spent: palaces, fineries, ornamentation. The workmen of the kingdom build up his benefits – seemingly ignorant of the looming threat of another Lamanite attack. While Noah’s father built up fortifications and weapons so that the people could desperately defend themselves, Noah legitimizes skimming off the resources of the people solely to benefit his clique.

And, no surprise, the Lamanites do notice the lack of defenses and commence raiding of Noah’s domain. Noah manages to mount a successful campaign against the Lamanite probes, but mistakenly thinks that his defeat of their reconnaissance in force is a bigger victory than it is. Noah’s people are condemned by Mormon for their boasting and their “delight in blood.”

At the end of Mosiah 11, we see Noah using his power as king to justify a death warrant against Abinadi, who preaches against his wickedness. Noah claims Abinadi’s words are seditious. Now, the truth of the matter is that Abinadi’s words are seditious, in that the people could be led to oppose Noah’s wicked institutions. With the laws that Noah has, Abinadi is absolutely in violation of them. That the laws are unjust is not an excuse. Abinadi will preach in full knowledge that his life is forfeit in that preaching. It is therefore, not Noah that slays the prophet: it is Noah’s nation and government that slays the prophet.

This, therefore, is the fullness of the social tragedy of King Noah. The wickedness of the ruler was all too easily embraced by a segment of the people who saw a way to profit thereby. The laws of the nation were bent and twisted and made to provide not a just government, but an unjust government. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer in Noah’s government – where that happens in the world, the nations permitting such things are under as much condemnation as was Noah’s.

The Keys to Destruction

The author of The Book of Mormon did not have room for excess. Both time and resources were limited for his effort of collating a record for a future day. He could not spare room for unnecessary words. As we read it, it does us well to focus on adjectives that Mormon provides so that we can better understand his message.

In Mosiah 9, Zeniff describes a change of heart that he had as he spied among the Lamanites. Sent into their midst to find out how to destroy them, he saw the good in them and no longer wished to see their destruction. When discussing his change of heart with his commander, it led to a battle within the Nephite group – father against father and brother against brother. Why? Why did the Nephites destroy themselves? Look at the description of the commander: blood-thirsty and austere.

Blood-thirsty has an obvious enough meaning: merciless. Austere carries a meaning of stubborn, strict, hostile to new ideas or even to the idea of making connections between ideas for better understanding. Translating “austere” into Hebrew gives חָמוּר. Translating חָמוּר back into English gives “donkey” as the first suggestion. “Severe, stern, grave, strict, drastic, grievous, acid” all follow as suggestions. Do we want to destroy ourselves? If yes, then let us be merciless and so set in our ways that we close off all hope of change in our views.

When we show mercy and entertain the thought that we might just be wrong, we open the doors to salvation as we close the gates of destruction. If that commander had been instead merciful and humble, along with the rest of that Nephite expedition, then they could all have been saved, in mortal respects as well as eternal.

But Zeniff continues, as he is a humble person and realizes his own fault in being over-zealous to work with the Lamanites. He describes himself with a term that indicates, again, a lack of flexibility. Associated words in Hebrew include “rabid, possessive, fanatical, jealous.” While it was better to be merciful than merciless, over-zealous is as bad as austere, in the long run.

In this case, Zeniff failed to remember that while there was good among the Lamanites, they were also in a state of general hostility towards the Nephites, and their leadership was not above setting a trap for Zeniff’s group. That they did does not surprise me, but that Zeniff so quickly goes to cursing the Lamanites with “they are all…” negative stereotypes, well, that caught me off-guard. I expected better of someone who was so ready to see the good in an enemy.

He insults the Lamanites, calling them a “lazy and idolatrous people” who wanted to “glut themselves with the labors of our hands”. Well, Zeniff, truth be told, that’s pretty much how conquest worked in the ancient world. It doesn’t make the Lamanites any better or worse than other nations that conquered and created tributary states for their support.

How could this episode have turned out differently, and better for Zeniff and his followers? If they had not been possessed of the idea of returning to “their” land, none of this would have happened. God had led Mosiah and the righteous people out of that land in order to preserve them. The land was no more for the Nephites: they had lost it through their wickedness, just as they had lost Jerusalem. Their new land was for them, and there was plenty of room there for growth, in peace and in righteousness.

That old land had been surrendered in order to save the righteous that remained among the Nephites. There is no way to reclaim that land rightfully save through peace and mutual agreement. Anything short of that will equate to generations of conflict. the very idea of reclaiming the land through violence or without all parties operating in good faith was at variance with God’s plan to preserve the people. This Zeniff admits as much to as he describes how the wars with the Lamanites led him and his followers to repent – “we were awakened to a remembrance of the deliverance of our fathers.” He had been proud, now the wars and their cost in lives was humbling him.

In Mosiah 10, Zeniff continues his record. He attributes a long period of peace to his people’s strength in weapons. So, yes, his people do not have to fight a war for 22 years, but they also have to divert much of their production towards weaponry and fortifications and live in constant apprehension of a day when the Lamanites feel that the odds are back in their favor. This is a watchful, paranoid peace, not a prosperous one.

The Lamanites attack again when a new king ascends to the throne. In order to defend themselves, the Nephites under Zeniff are forced to call into service both the old and young men – pensioners and teenagers, in our understanding. That is the extent of their desperation, they must scrape the bottom of the barrel for any man that can stand and point a spear in the direction of the enemy, no matter how unprepared for war that man might be.

As Zeniff describes the Lamanites on the march against his people, he again resorts to negative stereotypes to describe them. I don’t think that these stereotypes absolve Zeniff of the grave mistake he made in leading his people to return to a land that was no longer theirs. His description of the past sounds like propaganda or reasoning to justify the rightness of the cause to reclaim their old homeland. While I agree with Zeniff’s summary in that, yes, Nephi was more righteous in keeping the commandments of God, I can’t extend the righteousness of Nephi to all of his descendants. Had that been possible, then there would have been no flight from the land of Nephi under Mosiah.

Zeniff ends his days free from Lamanite rulership, but not free from fear. He is more repentant and humble than in his younger days, but still he clings to ideas that are zealous and rigid. His people fought to retain their political independence, but would they have had to fight at all if they had remained among their fellows in the land of refuge that Mosiah had found?

And thus we see the fate of those who are austere and those who are zealous. God’s way is merciful and patient and long-suffering and peaceful.