On January 11, my eye was caught by the headline with which L-Orizzont went to press that day. Over a photo of erstwhile prime minister Joseph Muscat, it had printed ‘Invictus’ in prominent type.
I see the sense in which Muscat might be called ‘Invictus’. His electoral victories are now a permanent part of Maltese history. But to me there are other nuances to that title. For, in its feminine form, it is the title of the book that Caroline Muscat and I published on Daphne Caruana Galizia barely a few weeks after her abominable assassination, and our meaning was very different from the one that supporters of Muscat use to pay him tribute.
It is often difficult to find an apt title for a piece of writing, but we had no such trouble this time. As Caroline and I poured all our grief and rage into the project in the dark days following that utterly evil crime, this title came to us with speed and grace.
‘Invicta’ is the Latin word for ‘unconquered’ in its feminine form, and therefore means the unconquered woman, in precisely the same way that ‘invictus’ means the unconquered man.
It is not hard to see why L-Orizzont called Muscat ‘Invictus’, though I ardently hope that he himself did not commit the hubris of tattooing that word on his own body.
He has a record of stunning electoral victories such as this country has never seen and, in the noon-tide of his career, he held all the frightening power that the Constitution bestows upon our prime minister, with the unceasing support of tens of thousands standing at his back through thick or thin, light or shade, and the concomitant influence of it all.
I doubt that we shall ever see such power vested in a single person again, and I hope that we never do.
Daphne was completely different. Anyone who has read her work over the years knows the course she took. As her ideas evolved over time, she brought the full unflinching force of her uncompromising character to wage war against all she deemed ran counter to her principles.
Throughout her life, despite her human failings, Daphne looked straight into the eyes of the endless hordes of those who hated her for raising the banner of her challenge to them
She courted no popularity. Over three decades, she faced outrageous moral, legal and physical assaults, some of murderous intent, perpetrated not just by individuals but by immensely powerful social forces.
In the last terrible months of her life, she stood alone, abandoned and vilified by the entire country, even by the PN that had hitherto used her work for its own political capital but had manifestly failed to take her concerns into account even when it held power.
Then came her appalling liquidation at the hands of monsters serving that cancerous conspiracy that has devoured our country.
So in what sense, and in what way, can Daphne be called ‘Invicta’, the unconquered woman, if she ended her life alone, vilified and crucified?
The answer comes from a full understanding of what victory means, beyond that of the successful application of brute force. Throughout her life, despite her human failings, Daphne looked straight into the eyes of the endless hordes of those who hated her for raising the banner of her challenge to them.
She endured the horrors of decades of dehumanisation, threat and assault, some, shamefully, through the structures of law, whose very raison d’être is to redress imbalance of power and deficiency of justice.
But she did not flinch. In those dark months towards the end of her life, even when, as she wrote on her blog, and later told Caroline, she felt her time running out, she never flinched. In the face of universal hatred and vilification, of utter defeat, of the growing threat of that awful death, she never flinched.
Therein lies the reason. As human beings turned from tribal life to civilisation, they turned also from the glorification of slaughter to a concept of moral excellence in which the greatest victory is over the self.
This mastery of self, which the Greeks called sōphrosynē or enkrateia, is such a great achievement because the most difficult challenge for the rational mind to overcome is the primal force of emotion and instinct, not an external opponent. The greatest victory comes only when you are at last alone, hated, rejected, with doom impending, and stand true to yourself to the bitter end.
This is what Daphne did: not the victory of brute force, seductive voice or smooth salesmanship, but victory over fear, dejection, isolation and everything else besides.
As Caroline and I looked at each other over our first notes for the book, I heard the echoes of these thoughts in the verses of another person who lived a life of suffering without losing faith in himself.
William Ernest Henley, in his poem ‘Invictus’, wrote how, in the fell clutch of circumstance, he had not winced nor cried aloud, how under the bludgeonings of chance, his head was bloody but unbowed, and therfore he was the master of his fate, the captain of his soul.
This is victory ‒ that crown that can only be worn by those who stand fast in the face of horror and death yet do not flinch. And Daphne, the one voice whom the entire country could neither silence nor break, became the Invicta of our generation when, at the end, they committed that egregious crime even the threat of which failed to quell and make her quail.
This is the sense in which Daphne is Invicta. Most people have no understanding of this sense and will mock it and hold it in contempt. But many others know that the laurel that Daphne has won has been watered by her blood, and will therefore last far longer and shine far brighter than the tarnished crown of one whose victory has ever been of strength, favour and guile, but who has never been alone and forced to choose between remaining true to himself or preserving his life.
To him who has conquered himself by himself, his own self is the friend of himself, but to him who has not (conquered) himself, his own self stands in the place of an enemy like the (external) foe.
Bhagavad Gita VI. 6
Joseph Anthony Debono, together with Caroline Muscat, is the editor of the book Invicta: The Life and Work of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
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