Torr, Cecil. Rhodes in Modern Times, including a Prologue by Kollias, Dr
Elias E, and new material by Brisch, Gerald. 3rd Guides, Archaeopress, Oxford,
For any serious student of the Order of St John/Malta, this book is
a recommended buy! It ought to rank as one of the "must haves"!
Specialist publishers in Malta have republished out-of-print books on the
Order in Malta - these book are very costly to purchase. Here is a reprint
of a book on the Order in Rhodes - with additional material - all for a very
modest costs. This in itself makes the purchase worthwhile and a
Unlike many Victorian books, Torr's account of Rhodes is neither an uncritical
digest of earlier sources nor a rewrite of previous books more immediate
to his generation. Combining his architectural knowledge, an acquaintance
with Rhodes itself, his scholarly learning and good use of source materials,
Torr has produced a book, which has stood the test of time. That the original
book still appears in Bibliographies on Rhodes is a testimony to Torr's
scholarship and its lasting value!
Torr's original book of 1887.
Originally published by Cambridge University Press, the title on its own,
can be misleading. It is not about Rhodes in the 1800s, but continues from
Torr's earlier works; "Rhodes in Ancient Times" (Cambridge University Press
1885) and "Rhodes under the Byzantines" (Cambridge University Press 1886).
The book of 1887, completed his trilogy on Rhodes, and this book was the
first real account of medieval Rhodes. In other words it covers the period
during which the Knights of St John occupied Rhodes. It is arrogant to think
that we today live in the 'modern' age - every generation will consider
themselves to be in the 'modern' age! Torr means post ancient. In his biography
on Torr, Gerald Brisch draws our attention to the issue of the title in a
footnote on page xxxiv.
Torr divides his book into five sections; Public Affairs 40 pages; Social
Life 35 pages; Religion 18 pages; Art 14 pages; & Learning 16 pages.
Torr's book had no concluding chapter, as it was not that kind of book. The
headings for the five sections are not rigid and are very broad titles, as
his historic survey of Rhodes continues through all five sections.
Public Affairs (pages 1 - 40) concerns Rhodes' place in the metanarrative
of the changing political map of the period surveyed. Covered in some detail
is a survey of the involvement of the Knights from beginning to end, including
an account of the two sieges that the Knights had faced.
Social Life (pages 41 - 75) covers a whole range of items - the
earthquakes Rhodes had suffered, details of fortifications, regulations on
commerce, the issue of Christian nations pirating against one another, the
expulsion of the Jews, the pawn shop run by the Knights, espionage during
the sieges, and a wealth of other detail.
Religion (pages 76 - 93) provides details of early Christian saints
who visit Rhodes, the rise of Rhodes' ecclesiastical status and its early
Bishops, monastic foundations, the creation under the Knights of a Latin
episcopate (there existed already a Greek episcopate), the disputed union
of the Greek and Latin Churches with one of its architects an Archbishop
of Rhodes, the Relics held in Rhodes, especially the Icon of our Lady of
Philermos, the use of Christian symbols during the sieges, and again a wealth
of other detail.
Art (pages 94 - 107) provides a very useful discussion on one of the
ancient Seven Wonders of the World - the Colossus of Rhodes, in which myth
has had its part in exaggerating its description. There are details of Rhodian
pottery, decorated tiles and coinage.
Learning (108 - 123) Details on Legends, the issue of attaching the
description "Rhodian" to items which did not related to the geographical
location, but then by myth became so associated, records and histories kept
by the Knights, and Greek love songs.
Torr's narrative often switches to a legend or story from antiquity, almost
in some places seamlessly. The lack of indentation, or quotation marks, might
in the less obvious places mislead some readers into believing they are reading
Torr's narrative i.e. the story of the ostriches which fed on iron and steel
(page 50). This lack of delineation is in part redeemed, if the reader looks
carefully enough, by the footnotes, which provide the source details. The
book was not intended to be an easy read, and so long as this is taken into
account, those wishing to learn more about a period in the history of Rhodes,
or the Order of St John, will find the book more than adequate for that task.
The new Edition.
The new edition is not simply Torr's book, invaluable as the book is. There
is a wealth of new material, almost doubling the size of the book. A prologue
is provided by Dr Elias E Kollias, both in his native Greek, and a translation
in English. In this prologue we find a testimony to the abiding value and
relevance of Torr's book. Dr Kollias touches upon the architecture of the
Knights following the rebuilding of Rhodes subsequent to the 1480 siege and
the 1481 earthquake.
Gerald Brisch provides us with 15 pages of a biography and chronology on
Cecil Torr. Torr seems to be a poignant figure. After being a successful
author, who was well travelled and a successful Barrister, he opts for obscurity
following what had become his last trip abroad in 1913, at the age of 56.
He settled down to take a real interest in the Wreyland estate, of which
he was in practical terms, the squire as owner of the ancient manor and of
the estate. Torr died at the age of 71. I cannot help but feeling that the
Great War (1914-1918) did much to dampen Torr's spirit and account for his
long retreat. His publications only begin again with his "Small talks at
Wreyland" at the end of the war. Yet we must keep in mind the fact that up
until 1918, he had not published anything since just before the death of
his brother in 1897.
At the end of Torr's book, Gerald Brisch has provided the reader with a wealth
of supplementary information. This is supplied as three "sidetracks". The
term does not do justice to the excellent information spanning an extra 60
pages! The first is one is about the writing of the book by Torr, with a
note on Torr's sources. The second is a chronology of Rhodes from ancient
times until 1948, when the Island was united with Greece. The two sieges
are then given their own month by month chronology. Sidetrack three, is a
further commentary on the book, but by way of a tour around Rhodes with Torr.
Details on such as the relics of the Knights are further elaborated and the
reader is brought up to date with the present whereabouts of the relics.
On the subject of the Order of St John, I have read all the current books
in print in English, and scores of those out of print as well as a few French
editions. The test for myself was "did this book provide some new insights
to the history of the Order of St John?" The answer being "yes!". Although
the book is about Rhodes, it does gives some insights not gained elsewhere
about the Order of St John, and in this respect, for anyone studying or wishing
to learn in depth about the Order of St John/Order of Malta, this book should
be high on the reading list, if not a must.
The Reverend Dr Michael Foster.
Thursday, 18th March 2004.