Monthly Archives: June 2016

The journal of an average reader – Epilogue

     It’s been four days since I ended my “reading week”, and even if I wanted to write the epilogue right after it finished, in the end, I preferred to let some days pass and see the effects that it had on me, and I have to say that a week of reading can change many things. In these seven days, I went through a big variation of books written in very different historical and political situations that somehow came together as one. We talked about war, love, disappointment, greed, tragedy, etc. This week only helped me to make a big step further in something that I understand every day more. It’s exactly what Socrates said: ἓν οἶδα ὅτι οὐδὲν οἶδα – I know that I know nothing. The more I read, the more I realize how limited my knowledge can be, and that I know nothing. I find interesting how in the past years I thought that I knew something and that I didn’t need to read that much, but when I decided”OK, let’s read and know more”, all that myth fell down: I knew nothing and every read page is a step closer to the Socratic idea.

    The benefits of this special reading week could be felt right away. Without even realizing I created a reading routine in my everyday life, which I consider so healthy, especially now at the beginning of the summer, when the everyday routine is heavily altered and sometimes takes long weeks to put together. I feel the need to read more and more, and this need cuts some hours of my sleep as during the day I am working hard on a Romanian translation of the first book of Herodotus (my first work as a classical philologist), which I hope that in the near future I will publish. I also became more eager to write here on my blog, which in the following days and weeks I will do as often as I can. I have some interesting subjects to talk about. What I found really interesting and helpful was the fact of writing at the end of every day a short summary of what I read. This really made me pay more attention at what I was reading, taking notes every now and then of things I found interesting to talk about.

     Do I recommend a week of reading? Absolutely yes, if you have the time to do it.

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All the books I had in my hands this week

 

 

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The journal of an average reader – Day 7 (Gallia is slowly conquered)

     The past days I developed a strange passion for Caesar, the writer, and the general. I can not, but be amazed by his wisdom to handle all the situations that he faces. That’s why I read the second book of the De Bello Gallico and once again I found interesting things related to the author, the general, and the war history of Rome.

    Digging right in, we see from the beginning the fear that Roman troops caused among the Gallia’s people.

While Caesar was in winter quarters in Hither Gaul, as we have shown above, frequent reports were brought to him, and he was also informed by letters from Labienus, that all the Belgae, who we have said are a third part of Gaul, were entering into a confederacy against the Roman people, and giving hostages to one another; that the reasons of the confederacy were these-first, because they feared that, after all [Celtic] Gaul was subdued, our army would be led against them; secondly, because they were instigated by several of the Gauls; some of whom as [on the one hand] they had been unwilling that the Germans should remain any longer in Gaul, so [on the other] they were dissatisfied that the army of the Roman people should pass the winter in it, and settle there;”

     Next thing I find interesting and almost funny is that the Belgae were not as much Belgae as we might think.

“When Caesar inquired of them what states were in arms, how powerful they were, and what they could do, in war, he received the following information: that the greater part of the Belgae were sprung, from the Germans, and that having crossed the Rhine at an early period, they had settled there, on account of the fertility of the country, and had driven out the Gauls who inhabited those regions;”

     It was the Germans… It’s always the Germans! It’s like it the destiny always was sending Caesar to fight against them, wherever he stepped. At this moment, a map would not hurt.

map_gallia_tribes_towns

 

The Belgae are the people who lived in Belgica, in the north. You can see how close they were to Germania and it’s no wonder why it was one of the territories that an empire like the Germans conquered.

 

The fact that the Romans were so advanced in the art of war and in the engineering, sometimes, only by showing their skills made the enemy surrender and try to make the peace with them.

 

“Having attempted to take it by storm on his march, because he heard that it was destitute of [sufficient] defenders, he was not able to carry it by assault, on account of the breadth of the ditch and the height of the wall, though few were defending it. Therefore, having fortified the camp, he began to bring up the vineae, and to provide whatever things were necessary for the storm. In the mean time the whole body of the Suessiones, after their flight, came the next night into the town. The vineae having been quickly brought up against the town, a mound thrown up, and towers built, the Gauls, amazed by the greatness of the works, such as they had neither seen nor heard of before, and struck also by the dispatch of the Romans, send embassadors to Caesar respecting a surrender, and succeed in consequence of the Remi requesting that they [the Suessiones] might be spared.”

 

The same thing we see a few chapters later:

“When, vineae having been brought up and a mound raised, they observed that a tower also was being built at a distance, they at first began to mock the Romans from their wall, and to taunt them with the following speeches. “For what purpose was so vast a machine constructed at so great a distance? With what hands,” or “with what strength did they, especially [as they were] men of such very small stature” (for our shortness of stature, in comparison to the great size of their bodies, is generally a subject of much contempt to the men of Gaul) “trust to place against their walls a tower of such great weight.

But when they saw that it was being moved, and was approaching their walls, startled by the new and unaccustomed sight, they sent embassadors to Caesar [to treat] about peace; who spoke in the following manner: “That they did not believe the Romans waged war without divine aid, since they were able to move forward machines of such a height with so great speed, and thus fight from close quarters; that they resigned themselves and all their possessions to [Caesar’s] disposal.”

     The vineae were a kind of moving towers that the Romans used to get their soldiers up on the walls of a city they were sieging.

     Next, the Romans were about to meet one of the most courageous people from Gallia: the Nervii. 

“When these were delivered, and all the arms in the town collected, he went from that place into the territories of the Ambiani, who, without delay, surrendered themselves and all their possessions. Upon their territories bordered the Nervii, concerning whose character and customs when Caesar inquired he received the following information:-That there was no access for merchants to them; that they suffered no wine and other things tending to luxury to be imported; because, they thought that by their use the mind is enervated and the courage-impaired: that they were a savage people and of great bravery: that they upbraided and condemned the rest of the Belgae who had surrendered themselves to the Roman people and thrown aside their national courage: that they openly declared they would neither send ambassadors, nor accept any condition of peace.”

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Right in the center

 

 

Caesar goes against them with six legions and found himself fighting against enemies much stronger than what he believed, who would not think twice before attacking. So were they doing and put the Roman general in a crisis of time:

 

“Caesar had everything to do at one time: the standard to be displayed, which was the sign when it was necessary to run to arms; the signal to be given by the trumpet; the soldiers to be called off from the works; those who had proceeded some distance for the purpose of seeking materials for the rampart, to be summoned; the order of battle to be formed; the soldiers to be encouraged; the watchword to be given. A great part of these arrangements was prevented by the shortness of time and the sudden approach and charge of the enemy.” 

     Even if they were in trouble, they were in the end The Romans and had to work it out somehow.

Under these difficulties two things proved of advantage; [first] the skill and experience of the soldiers, because, having been trained by former engagements, they could suggest to themselves what ought to be done, as conveniently as receive information from others; and [secondly] that Caesar had forbidden his several lieutenants to depart from the works and their respective legions, before the camp was fortified. These, on account of the near approach and the speed of the enemy, did not then wait for any command from Caesar, but of themselves executed whatever appeared proper.

 

A thing that I observed during my study as a classicist is that every time there was a war somewhere, when the soldiers were well encouraged they get a strength that they didn’t know they have. Caesar was really good encouraging his soldiers. Here we have an example:

 “Caesar, having given the necessary orders, hastened to and fro into whatever quarter fortune carried him, to animate the troops, and came to the tenth legion. Having encouraged the soldiers with no further speech than that “they should keep up the remembrance of their wonted valor, and not be confused in mind, but valiantly sustain the assault of the enemy ;” as the latter were not further from them than the distance to which a dart could be cast, he gave the signal for commencing battle.”

     After a lot of losses on both sides, the Romans, thanks to the lieutenant Labienus put themselves together and won the battle. Caesar admires his enemy beyond measure and refers to them as good fighters.

“But the enemy, even in the last hope of safety, displayed such great courage, that when the foremost of them had fallen, the next stood upon them prostrate, and fought from their bodies; when these were overthrown, and their corpses heaped up together, those who survived cast their weapons against our men [thence], as from a mound, and returned our darts which had fallen short between [the armies]; so that it ought not to be concluded, that men of such great courage had injudiciously dared to pass a very broad river, ascend very high banks, and come up to a very disadvantageous place; since their greatness of spirit had rendered these actions easy, although in themselves very difficult.”

      Another face of Caesar that we haven’t yet seen was that of a cold-hearted tyrant. In many occasions, we see that he forgives his enemies and lets them live, but in other situations, he treats the people he killed or sold as slaves just as a simple number, who doesn’t matter more than a speck of dust.

“…About 4,000 of the men having been slain, the rest were forced back into the town. The day after, Caesar, after breaking open the gates, which there was no one then to defend, and sending in our soldiers, sold the whole spoil of that town. The number of 53,000 persons was reported to him by those who had bought them.”

“At the same time he was informed by P. Crassus, whom he had sent with one legion against the Veneti, the Unelli, the Osismii, the Curiosolitae, the Sesuvii, the Aulerci, and the Rhedones, which are maritime states, and touch upon the [Atlantic] ocean, that all these nations were brought under the dominion and power of the Roman people.”
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North-West of modern day France

     This, friends, is the last post about my reading days. I hope you enjoyed and found some of my reviews helpful.
     Tomorrow I will come with an epilogue.
Denis

 

 

 

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The journal of an average reader – Day 6 (The Trojans ignore the omens and Dubrovsky’s revenge)

      Two days ago, while reading Caesar, an ex-classmate of mine asked me: So, what’s up, you’re finally enjoying the Classical Philology after you graduated? And that was exactly what was going on. During my studies, I was always so focused to just get the job done that I forgot to enjoy what I was there for. That’s why these days I read the ancient world’s classics and I’m having a blast.

      Today’s reading started with the 12th song of the Iliad. The people who read it, they might remember these scene. The Trojans advance towards the Greeks and they finally get through the wall that the last ones built around their ships. It’s a heavy chapter, full of battle descriptions, that might get confusing in some situations, because of so many names. At some points, it feels like you don’t know who killed whom. Was he Trojan or Greek? This seems the introduction to the 13th though which I strongly believe that is going to be really bloody since they break the wall and start fighting by the ships. Let’s see some fragments from today’s chapter:

“Then the son of Peirithous, mighty Polypoetes, cast with his spear and smote Damasus through the helmet with cheek pieces of bronze;  and the bronze helm stayed not the spear, but the point of bronze brake clean through the bone, and all the brain was spattered about within; so stayed he him in his fury. And thereafter he slew Pylon and Ormenus. And Leonteus, scion of Ares, smote Hippomachus, son of Antimachus, with a cast of his spear, striking him upon the girdle.  And again he drew from its sheath his sharp sword and darting upon him through the throng smote Antiphates first in close fight, so that he was hurled backward upon the ground; and thereafter Menon, and Iamenus, and Orestes, all of these one after the other he brought down to the bounteous earth.”

 

     As I said before, there are a lot of names that you have to follow carefully so you won’t get lost.
     Both the Trojans and the Greeks were very superstitious people. They interpreted and read the gods’ will in many ways; e.g. watching the way the birds flew (ornithomancy), reading the sacrificed animals’ entrails (haruspicy), and so many others. The same happens here:
“While they were stripping from these their shining arms, meanwhile the youths that followed with Polydamas and Hector, even they that were most in number and bravest, and that most were fain to break through the wall and burn the ships with fire, these still tarried in doubt, as they stood by the trench. For a bird had come upon them, as they were eager to cross over, an eagle of lofty flight, skirting the host on the left, and in its talons it bore a blood-red, monstrous snake, still alive as if struggling, nor was it yet forgetful of combat, it writhed backward, and smote him that held it on the breast beside the neck, till the eagle, stung with pain, cast it from him to the ground, and let it fall in the midst of the throng, and himself with a loud cry sped away down the blasts of the wind. And the Trojans shuddered when they saw the writhing snake lying in the midst of them, a portent of Zeus that beareth the aegis.”
      That was very bad news for the Trojans, and that’s why Polydamas went straight to Hector and told him to call off the attack, giving the following arguments:

“Let us not go forward to fight with the Danaans for the ships. For thus, methinks, will the issue be, seeing that in sooth this bird has come upon the Trojans, as they were eager to cross over, an eagle of lofty flight, skirting the host on the left, bearing in his talons a blood-red, monstrous snake, still living, yet straightway let it fall before he reached his own nest, neither finished he his course, to bring and give it to his little ones—even so shall we, though we break the gates and the wall of the Achaeans by our great might, and the Achaeans give way, come back over the selfsame road from the ships in disarray; for many of the Trojans shall we leave behind, whom the Achaeans shall slay with the bronze in defense of the ships. On this wise would a soothsayer interpret, one that in his mind had clear knowledge of omens, and to whom the folk gave ear.”
     Surprisingly, Hector refuses to listen and even rebukes him for trying to make the others stop the attack, that seemed to go so good for them. The result of not listening to this omen will be seen in the next song.
       When they finally break the wall and can advance through, we are presented a picture of Hector like never before. That’s the Trojan hero in all his glory.
“And glorious Hector leapt within, his face like sudden night; and he shone in terrible bronze wherewith his body was clothed about, and in his hands he held two spears. None that met him could have held him back, none save the gods, when once he leapt within the gates; and his two eyes blazed with fire.”
      Later on, I felt like I needed some Russian literature and I went straight to the author that my favorite, Dostoievski, appreciated and was strongly influenced by: Aleksandr Pushkin. I happened to read what by the end became one of my favorites narratives I’ve ever read: Dubrovsky. First, I’d like to talk about the edition and translation. I used a Spanish translation made by Amaya Lacasa published by Alba Minus in a collection called Narraciones Completas. If this edition would be a hardcover, it would probably be one of my favorites editions of a book I own. I love everything about it. The font, the distance between the lines, the margin. It’s so easy and comfortable to read.
      Let’s go straight to the argument. It starts with the story of an arrogant Russian aristocrat, who lives in his mansion and doesn’t like to have meetings with anybody. That’s the reason why a lot of people take that as a challenge, and if anybody finally gets in his presence it’s known as “the man who met Troyekurov”. There’s an exception, Dubrovsky, an old comrade from his time in the army, whose luck decreased lately and wasn’t that rich anymore. Even if Kirila Petrovich Troyekurov was a proud man, he enjoyed every moment with his old friend and wouldn’t care if spending time with him would damage his image in the society.
“… and Kirila Petrovich, who didn’t use to honor anybody with his company, went to the modest home of his old friend without even thinking. They were both the same age, belonged to the same class and had a similar education, which explained  some character resemblances and inclinations. 
[…] Everybody envied the concord that reigned between the arrogant Troyekurov and his indigent neighbor, and admired the courage of the last one, who, sitting at Kirila Petrovich’s table, expressed freely his opinion without worrying if he’d contradict the master of the house. “
     Everything changed when in the presence of other people Dubrovsky had the freedom to say something that bothered his friend, and the last one insulted him in front of everybody. Dubrovsky wanted an apology, and Troyekurov wanted his apology too. We’re in front of two proud Russian aristocrats. It’s no doubt that the fun is about to start. One thing leads to another and they are both in front of a judge, with Troyekurov claiming all his (not anymore) friend’s properties, after he created some fake documents and witnesses. When the judge says the sentence and Troyekurov is the winner we have the following reaction of Dubrovsky:
“Dubrovski stayed there in silence… Out of the sudden he raised his head, with sparkling eyes, hit the floor with a foot, pushed the secretary with so many force that he fell, took the inkwell and went straight to the assessor. Everybody was horrified.
– What! You don’t respect the church of God! Out, villains! And turning to Kirila Petrovich continued – Have you seen yourself, sir? Huntsmen taking dogs to the church of the Lord. Dogs running through the church. You will see…”
     After some time, Dubrovsky got sick and called his long-gone son, who was studying away, to come home. In the end (sorry for the spoiler) he dies and the real story starts. It’s all about the younger Dubrovsky now, who promises to revenge his father’s dead.
     I love how calm he is in some nerve-wrecking situations; e.g. when the peasants want to kill the men who come to take and use Troyekurov’s new property, the young Dubrovsky stops them:
“-Stop – shouted Dubrovsky. Are you crazy? You’re going to find your own ruin, and mine too. Everybody go at their homes and leave me alone. Do not be afraid, the tsar is merciful, I will ask him for you and he will not leave you; we’re all his. But, how would you want me to defend you if you do all these crazy things?” 
     I will stop right here and encourage you to take and read the narrative by yourself. It’s not very long; around 80 pages. You will enjoy it, no doubt. It has everything: a good argument, it’s well written, funny, entertaining, without useless details, etc.

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The journal of an average reader – Day 5 (The Israelis’ hybris and Orestes’ vengeance)

     For some time now I wanted to go again through King David’s story and, since yesterday I finished John I thought that today might be a nice moment to do so. I started from the beginning, 1 Samuel, before David was even born. Let’s dig right it.

      Right in the first chapter I noticed once again, the great humility of Hannah. She was the second wife of Elkanah and couldn’t have kids. So the other wife Peninnah mocked her every time she had the occasion, but we’re not told that she’d ever answer back. She kept it for herself and told her pain to her God.

“6 And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because theLord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11 And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

     Once again, I got confused and angry . I sometimes find so incredible how the Israelis, who claimed to have the real God, whose hand saw so many time working for them, so easily abandon their beliefs and lose control of themselves.

“12 Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord. 13 The custom of the priests with the people was that when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, 14 and he would thrust it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot. All that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there.15 Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give meat for the priest to roast, for he will not accept boiled meat from you but only raw.” 16 And if the man said to him, “Let them burn the fat first, and then take as much as you wish,” he would say, “No, you must give it now, and if not, I will take it by force.” 17 Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt.”

     Now, everybody who knows a bit of the ancient world is aware that YOU JUST DON’T MESS WITH THE SACRIFICE. You can’t, you just can’t. Doing that was an act of hybris and bore God’s or the Gods’ wrath upon you, which is exactly what we’re told that happened:

10 So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. 11 And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.”

     We’re being told that the Israelis got lost once again and started serving other gods once again. They repented in the end and went back to their God.

“3 And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only.”

     As you read through the Old Testament you see so many scenarios like these up and downs and you start wondering what was in their heads…

    Now let’s get to something completely different.

   One of my biggest weaknesses in this world is the Greek tragedy. Whenever it comes to this subject I’m always all ears. Due to its impact back in Ancient Greece’s society, the scholars realised how complex and deep it is and tried to make it as clear as possible for everybody. I deeply recommend Nothing to Do with Dionysos?: Athenian Drama in Its Social Context. It’s a book that made so many things clear to me.

     Today’s reading was Euripides’ Electra. If you plan to read this one, I suggest to walk the extra mile and read the Aeschylus’ Oresteia as well. It will complete the story for you and clarify some things. Some might say that I should add a “spoiler alert” banner or something here for what I’m going to say next, BUT since the Greeks knew all those “spoilers” and nothing was that new to them, let’s try to imitate them and be a proper tragedy audience. I read a Spanish translation by Alberto Medina González and I have to say that I was pretty impressed by the accuracy and clarity of it. What I didn’t like so much was the edition of the book, which is part of the collection “Grandes Genios de la Literatura Universal” basically for one reason: the lines are not marked, so if you want to cite a passage you have to take another edition that has them, which is pretty inconvenient.

     After a long time, Orestes comes back to Argos to take vengeance on his father’s assassination. His father was Agamemnon, the Greek general who fought in Troy and died by the hand of his wife and her lover, Egistus. His sister, Electra was given as wife by Egistus to a weak peasant, so she won’t bear to the world strong children who would eventually take revenge on their grandfather death.

     Earlier I said that Greek tragedy had a big impact on the Greece’s society. We already saw before when I talked about Antigone that some of the passages we find in it should have a big impact in us as well, because the things said are true and totally make sense.

“Peasant

When it is day, I will drive the oxen to my lands and sow the fields. For no idler, though he has the gods’ names always on his lips, can gather a livelihood without hard work.”

     What a beautiful and strong anti-laziness passage. I love how there is no imperative call to work, but a self-example. I loved the way Euripides shaped the Peasant role during the entire play and I’m going to focus a bit on him.

     Next, Orestes, arrived in his homeland visits his sister who doesn’t recognize him, and acts like he’s a stranger trying to get as much information as he can from her, before letting her know who he really is. Another passage about the peasant:

“Electra
I am married, stranger; a deadly match.

Orestes
I pity your brother. Is your husband a Mycenaean?

Electra
Not one to whom my father ever hoped to give me.

Orestes
 Tell me so that I may hear and inform your brother.

Electra
I live in his house, at a distance from the city.

Orestes
A ditch-digger or a herdsman is worthy of the house.

Electra
He is a man poor but noble, and respectful to me.

Orestes
What is this respect that your husband has?

Electra
He has never dared to touch me in bed.

Orestes
Does he hold some form of religious chastity, or does he think you unworthy?

Electra
He did not think himself worthy to insult my family.

Orestes
And how was he not delighted to make such a marriage?

Electra
He thinks the person who gave me did not have that right, stranger.

Orestes
I understand; he fears that he may someday be punished by Orestes.

Electra
He does fear that, but he is also a virtuous man.”

     Another reflection of his:

“It is in such cases, whenever I fail in my intentions, that I see how wealth has great power, to give to strangers, and to expend in curing the body when it falls sick; but money for our daily food comes to little; for every man when full, rich or poor, gets an equal amount”

     One of my favorite moments from this play is the very emotional scene when Electra realises that the stranger whom she was talking to is actually her long-gone brother. I won’t write here the entire scene because I wouldn’t like to destroy it for you so you’ll enjoy it while reading the entire play.

“Old man
Where are the guests? I want to see them and question them about your brother. As he speaks, Orestes and Pylades come out of the hut.

Electra
There they are, coming quickly out of the house.

Old man
They are well-born, but that may ring false; for many of the well-born are base. However; I give the guests welcome.

Orestes
Welcome, old man! To which of your friends, Electra, does this ancient remnant of a man belong?

Electra
This is the one who brought up my father, stranger.

Orestes
What are you saying? Is this the one who stole away your brother?

Electra
This is the one who saved him, if indeed he is still alive.

Orestes
Oh! Why does he look at me, as if he were examining the clear mark impressed on a silver coin? Is he comparing me to someone?

Electra
Perhaps he is glad to see in you a companion of Orestes.

Orestes
A beloved man, yes. But why is he circling all around me?

Electra
I too am amazed, looking at this, stranger.

Old man
O mistress, daughter Electra, pray to the gods.”

547-563

     I hope you find all these helpful and give you a taste of the books mentioned here. If you need any suggestion concerning the translation, the edition or anything else, I’d be more than happy to answer.

Bonus: Picture of me at the theater of Epidaurus. 10995449_10204289264172304_2801385959396752511_n

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The journal of an average reader – Day 4 (Caesar at war)

I will not spend time talking about the chapter of the first book I read today, which was the 21st of John, where Jesus shows Himself again and eats with some of the disciples. There’s also the famous scene where He asks Peter if he loves Him, but with the famous words play in Greek (agapás me, filo se). Instead, I want to talk about something else. A couple of months ago I started memorising 2nd Timothy in Greek and besides the great feeling of knowing something by memory, there are other benefits that this practice has for you.

It’s no wonder the Greeks were so smart: they started memorising the Iliad and the Odyssey since their childhood. You know how much is that? Around 27.000 lines!!! Memorization is a great way of training your brain to remember all kind of things, not only the text you memorise, for it gains strength to retain more information. It’s exactly like going to the gym, more you lift, easier it gets. Another important ability that you develop is focusing. Studies have shown that the kids who were required to memorise from an early age, had less probability of losing focus in their posterior studies. If you are a person like me who never wants to stop learning new things, this might help you as well. For example, if you want to learn a new language, when it comes to memorising and using new vocabulary, sometimes you just feel like giving up (been there, lived that – kudos for German-). In these moments, if your brain is already trained to retain new information, it will be much easier. Do you know what’s one of the things that I fear the most? Memory loss by the time I’ll get old. The memory training can stave off cognitive decline and you will be able to maintain higher cognitive functioning and everyday skills. Practising memorization allows the elderly adults to delay typical cognitive decline by seven to fourteen years. If you start practising memory training now, you can stay sharp in years to come.

 

I was in my second semester of my first year of uni when I had in front of me what appeared to be one of the most known Latin sentence. “Gallia est omnis diuisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt belgae, aliam aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua celtae, nostra galli appleantur.” Yes, it’s Caesar! Exactly, the one stabbed in the senate! Whoops, I hope I didn’t spoiled anybody’s ending. Back then I was for the first time in contact with a Latin prose text that wasn’t adapted. Our professor picked a couple of fragments from Caesar’s De bello Gallico so we learn the well known accusativus cum infinitivo. Since we were focusing so much on the morphology and syntax, we kind of missed the point of the story we were reading. That’s the reason I feel very indebted to the narcissistic, sadic but super-smart general, self-declared dictator perpetuus, whose intelligence I can not, but admire, also known as Julius Caesar. I felt that I needed to read him again and get more into the story than into the grammar. That’s why today I decided to read the first book of The Gallic War, written in third person. (Yes, Caesar talks about himself in third person *cough* narcissistic *cough*).

 

(*Quick reminder – All the fragments I cite from the books I talk about on my blog are intended to raise your curiosity so you read them yourself.)

I found very interesting the determination the Helvetii had to leave their own lands and expand. They burnt their own towns just to be sure that they won’t be tempted to go back and started their crazy adventure of conquering the entire Gallia.

 

“…the Helvetii nevertheless attempt to do that which they had resolved on, namely, to go forth from their territories. When they thought that they were at length prepared for this undertaking, they set fire to all their towns, in number about twelve-to their villages about four hundred-and to the private dwellings that remained; they burn up all the corn, except what they intend to carry with them; that after destroying the hope of a return home, they might be the more ready for undergoing all dangers. They order every one to carry forth from home for himself provisions for three months, ready ground.”

I, 6

     History never forgets. So tells us Caesar, when he shows no mercy to the Helvetii who have not obeyed what he said.

“Attacking them encumbered with baggage, and not expecting him, he cut to pieces a great part of them; the rest betook themselves to flight, and concealed themselves in the nearest woods. That canton [which was cut down] was called the Tigurine; for the whole Helvetian state is divided into four cantons. This single canton having left their country, within the recollection of our fathers, had slain Lucius Cassius the consul, and had made his army pass under the yoke. Thus, whether by chance, or by the design of the immortal gods, that part of the Helvetian state which had brought a signal calamity upon the Roman people, was the first to pay the penalty. In this Caesar avenged not only the public but also his own personal wrongs, because the Tigurini had slain Lucius Piso the lieutenant [of Cassius], the grandfather of Lucius Calpurnius Piso, his [Caesar’s] father-in-law, in the same battle as Cassius himself.”

I, 12

     A lot of people are surprised when they find out how advanced was the Roman engineering for their times, and this is a great example.

“This battle ended, that he might be able to come up with the remaining forces of the Helvetii, he procures a bridge to be made across the Saone , and thus leads his army over. The Helvetii, confused by his sudden arrival, when they found that he had effected in one day, what they, themselves had with the utmost difficulty accomplished in twenty namely, the crossing of the river, send embassadors to him;”

I, 13

     There’s a scene that made me doubt a bit that cold-hearted Caesar that I knew about, that merciless and sadic man who he was. I guess in the end he was a man with a heart. Or was he? Wasn’t there only political and economical reasons behind his facts. After the next scene you might be wondering yourself the same thing. The scenario is the following: Caesar finds out that the brother of one of his allies, for whom he had a lot of respect, put in danger his military plans. After he begs Caesar for his brother, this is the reaction of the roman general:

“Divitiacus, embracing Caesar, begins to implore him, with many tears, that “he would not pass any very severe sentence upon his brother; saying, that he knows that those charges are true, and that nobody suffered more pain on that account than he himself did; […] As he was with tears begging these things of Caesar in many words, Caesar takes his right hand, and, comforting him, begs him to make an end of entreating, and assures him that his regard for him is so great, that he forgives both the injuries of the republic and his private wrongs, at his desire and prayers. He summons Dumnorix to him; he brings in his brother; he points out what he censures in him; he lays before him what he of himself perceives, and what the state complains of; he warns him for the future to avoid all grounds of suspicion; he says that he pardons the past, for the sake of his brother, Divitiacus.”

I, 20

     This man knew his way. He was a really good general and was aware that the victory didn’t only stand in a good handling of the spears and swords, but also in taking away one of the biggest human necessity: food. The Helvetii were already weak and hungry when this happened:

“After the battle about 130,000 men [of the enemy] remained alive, who marched incessantly during the whole of that night; and after a march discontinued for no part of the night, arrived in the territories of the Lingones on the fourth day, while our men, having stopped for three days, both on account of the wounds of the soldiers and the burial of the slain, had not been able to follow them. Caesar sent letters and messengers to the Lingones[with orders] that they should not assist them with corn or with anything else; for that if they should assist them, he would regard them in the same light as the Helvetii. After the three days’ interval he began to follow them himself with all his forces.”

    Then, it came the result:

“The Helvetii, compelled by the want of everything, sent embassadors to him about a surrender. When these had met him on the way and had thrown themselves at his feet, and speaking in suppliant tone had with tears sued for peace, and [when] he had ordered them to await his arrival, in the place, where they then were, they obeyed his commands.”

I, 26-27

     After all this happened, the entire Gallia was aware of the force of Caesar and tried to make him an ally, that’s why they organised an assembly thanking him for his help against the Helvetii, and asking desperately help in another situation they had. Ariovistus, the German general already made his way in Gallia and was suppressing some of the territories there. In the assembly, the Sequani didn’t have the courage to talk, and Divitiacus, the head of the Haedui took the word and said:

“…the lot of the Sequani was more wretched and grievous than that of the rest, on this account, because they alone durst not even in secret complain or supplicate aid; and shuddered at the cruelty of Ariovistus [even when] absent, just as if he were present; for, to the rest, despite of everything there was an opportunity of flight given; but all tortures must be endured by the Sequani, who had admitted Ariovistus within their territories, and whose towns were all in his power.”

I, 32

     When Caesar tried to talk with Ariovistus and ask nicely to leave Gallia, due to their past relationship, the German answered:

“That he had come into Gaul before the Roman people. That never before this time did a Roman army go beyond the frontiers of the province of Gaul. What [said he] does [Caesar] desire?- why come into his [Ariovistus] domains?-that this was his province of Gaul, just as that is ours. As it ought not to be pardoned in him, if he were to make an attack upon our territories; so, likewise, that we were unjust, to obstruct him in his prerogative.”

     In the same section, a few sentences below it comes an affirmation of Ariovistus that made me laugh, knowing what happened to Caesar years after all this conversation. He was talking about a possible war with them, and what would happen if he’d kill the Roman general. Can be this a sign of what would happen to Caesar later on ?

“And that unless he depart and withdraw his army from these parts, he shall regard him not as a friend, but as a foe; and that, even if he should put him [Caesar] to death, he should do what would please many of the nobles and leading men of the Roman people; he had assurance of that from themselves through their messengers, and could purchase the favor and the friendship of them all by his [Caesar’s] death.”

I, 44

     There are much more passages that I’d like to cite, but I will stop right here and encourage you to read it yourself. It’s such an interesting reading.

See you tomorrow,

Denis

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The journal of an average reader – Day 3 (Russian pre-teenager entagles with Antigone)

     Today I finally approached what I am actually here for: Dostoievski! The people who are closer to me know that he is my favorite, but I have a problem. I read all his long novels and now I only have some short ones left, so I’m trying to keep them as a special chocolate that you eat only during special occasions. Of course, I agree with Italo Calvino that every second reading of a classic is a reading of discovery like the first one, but the first time you read something is special, and I am a big fan of that feeling. I was on the train on my way to Barcelona when I started reading this short novel called “The Young Hero”, Malen ‘ki gueroi in Russian. From the first sentences, the dostoievskian style and spirit marked its presence, the detailed explanation of the character of the protagonists with their deepest thoughts and feelings. It’s hard not to like it. The story is about an eleven years old pre-teenager, who as soon as what he calls “love” starts tickling his heart considers himself a grown up and gets annoyed when the women around treat him like the kid that he is. 

” – Come here – she said vividly […]. Come here with me and sit on my lap.

– On your lap?… I asked embarrassed. 

As I said before, my privileges as a kid started to offend and embarrass me seriously. […]

– Well, yes, on my lap. Why don’t you want to sit on my lap?, she insisted, laughing every time more […].

Ashamed and disturbed I started looking around like I was searching for something.”

     There are even some times when he tries to prove his manhood; e.g. when one of the women publicly refers to him as (in his opinion) as a romantic opponent of her own husband, he bursts and says:

“Aren’t you ashamed… to say out loud… in the presence of all the ladies… such a big lie? … You act like a little girl… in front of all the gentlemen… What will they say? … You are a grown up person… and married! …”

I didn’t even finish the sentence when a deafening applause was heard. My posture aroused a true furore.” 

And then there’s another scene when he crazily drives successfully an untamed horse that everybody fears and wins a place in an excursion where there was no more. It all ends up with an exclamation made by the host of the house where he was living:

“Long live the new generation!” 

     I leave the end of the story to be discovered by you.

      For a moment, I could feel a strong connection between the character of this boy and Kolya from the Brothers Karamazov. The way they both acted and talked like they were adults is something that I really do believe that Dostoievski did on purpose.

     Long story short, I recommend this to all the Dostoievski fans out there and also for the people who want to start reading him. I read the Spanish version of the Penguin Clásicos collection of Dostoievskian short novels, which although is a cheap version, I don’t really like its format, to be honest.

     For some years now, I have a new ritual. Every summer, as soon as I finish the semester I read my favorite Greek tragedy: Antigone. And so did I this evening. I used what I think it’s the best translation we have in Catalan, i.e. Carles Riba’s from 1951. Some may say that it’s old and obsolete, but since he was THAT good, I think it still stands today as a remarkable piece of work.

     Starting to commend the piece right here right now would be useless. So much has been written already about this amazing tragedy, and since I am no expert I do not want to make claims that I am not sure about. Either way, I will present some passages that called my attention in a special way and can be useful for us even 2400 years later.

     First I’d like to introduce you a bit the play and what it’s about. Creon is Oedipus’ brother-in-law and uncle of Antigone, Ismene, Polynikes and Etocles. Eventually Polynikes betrays his homeland Thebes and starts a war with it, where he kills his brother Etocles and becomes a fratricide. Etocles with his last powers kills Polynikes too. Creon, since the last one to die was a fratricide and a betrayer, denies his right to be buried and have the funerary rites that allow him to pass into the land of the dead. Antigone doesn’t obey and sneaks to her brother’s uncovered body, symbolically buries him and does the necessary rites. She is caught and punished. Antigone was also promised to Creon’s son, Hemon, who is very affected by this punishment. What comes next is to be read by you.

     When Creon hears for the first time that there has been done a symbolical bury to Polynikes, thinks that the guards have been bribed to do that and says something that is very actual for us as well, and whoever has ears to hear, let them hear! 

“Nothing so evil as money ever grew to be current among men. This destroys cities, this drives men from their homes, this trains and warps honest minds to set themselves to works of shame, this teaches people to practise villainies, and to know every act of unholiness.”

     I couldn’t, but admire Antigone’s courage when she was brought in front of Creon to give an explanation. She was sure that what she did was good and stood strong in her beliefs. I am pretty sure that the feminists burst in tears of pride reading this. A simple search on Google with “Antigone” and “Feminism” as keywords will help you find nice articles and books written on the subject.

“Creon
You, however, tell me—not at length, but briefly—did you know that an edict had forbidden this?

Antigone
I knew it. How could I not? It was public.

Creon
And even so you dared overstep that law?

Antigone
Yes, since it was not Zeus that published me that edict, and since not of that kind are the laws which Justice who dwells with the gods below established among men. Nor did I think that your decrees were of such force, that a mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statutes given us by the gods. For their life is not of today or yesterday, but for all time, and no man knows when they were first put forth. Not for fear of any man’s pride was I about to owe a penalty to the gods for breaking these.”

     Hemon, hearing the punishment that his soon-to-be wife was about to suffer tries to persuade his father with beautiful words, but Creon’s heart doesn’t move. I often wondered (of course, after judging him a thousand times :D)  if Creon wasn’t doing the right thing by punishing Polynikes. After all, he was a betrayer and enemy of his land. Didn’t he deserve all that?

 “Hemon 

[…]

In any case, it is my natural duty to watch on your behalf all that men say, or do, or find to blame. For dread of your glance forbids the ordinary citizen to speak such words as would offend your ear. But I can hear these murmurs in the dark, how the city moans for this girl, saying: “No woman ever merited death less— none ever died so shamefully for deeds so glorious as hers, who, when her own brother had fallen in bloody battle, would not leave him unburied to be devoured by savage dogs, or by any bird. Does she not deserve to receive golden honor?”

     Another passage that should be reminded to everybody who is in charge of a large group of people (not only to country leaders) is this:

“Creon
And is she not in the grasp of that disease?

Haemon
All the people of this city of Thebes deny it.

Creon
Shall Thebes prescribe to me how I must rule?

Haemon
 See, there, how you have spoken so much like a child.

Creon
Am I to rule this land by the will of another than myself?

Haemon
That is no city, which belongs to one man.

Creon
Does not the city by tradition belong to the man in power?

Haemon
You would make a fine monarch in a desert.”

     I wouldn’t like to spoil the ending of the play for anybody who hasn’t read it, so I won’t say a thing! All I say is that George R.R. Martin envies it from his bones. In the end this is where he gets his inspiration from.

See you tomorrow!

Denis

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The journal of an average reader – Day 2 (The scholars help us know He has risen and Vergil’s political propaganda)

If yesterday started with a strong, thrilling passage, today was the calm after the storm. Do you know that moment when you think that everything is lost, but then you discover that it’s quite the contrary? John 20: He has risen ! Yesterday He was beaten up, crucified and left to die, now he disappeared from his tomb and showed Himself a couple of times to people He knew. Once again, the scene when Peter and the other disciple found out that He was not anymore in the tomb and started running like crazy was so alive in Greek thanks to the repeated καὶ juxtaposition, that created a state inside me which made me start reading faster like I was running with them. I imagine them rushing and arriving to the place where Jesus was buried without breath.

Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.”

     So many emotions are involved in the 31 verses of this chapter, especially in the 16th verse when Maria realized whom she was talking with, exclaiming “Rabboni”, then the time when Jesus shows Himself to Thomas. Every time I finish reading this episode I fully live strong emotions with a peaceful apogee.

    Next on the list was once again Scribes and Scholars. I started with a small chapter dedicated to the process of transition from the roll to the codex, the period from the second century to the fourth AD. It is a pretty impressive chapter talking about a very mesmerizing task that actually caused the loss of a lot of literature, which we would’ve lost anyways due to the deterioration of the papyrus. I was also well pleased in the next chapter with the erudition of the first Christians who, contrary to what the modern thinker would believe, did not destroy the pagan literature, but took what was applicable for their own beliefs and used it in their writings.

“Just as Ambrose in his De officiis ministrorum was able to produce an influential manual of Christian ethics by reworking the basically Stoic content of Cicero’s De officiis, so Augustine, writing at a time when he was least sympathetic to secular letters, in his De doctrina Christiana successfully adapted classical Roman rhetoric and in particular the theory of the three styles as elaborated by Cicero in the Orator to the needs of the Christian preacher. “

L.D. Reynolds (1968), p.38

     A thing I love about this book is that when it comes to those things that need a visual support, i.e. the critical signs, scripts, etc. at the end of the book there are pictures of different plates that gives you an example; e.g. this plate with an example of Rustic Capital script. Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 22.51.52

     Next book to read was Vergil’s Eclogae or Bucolics, in a Catalan translation from 1956 made by Miquel Dolç, of course, Bernat Metge editorial. The introduction to this version is around 100 pages long, but it helps you understand very much what Virgil intended with these ten short poems. I have to recognize that I struggled a bit with the translation, though, but since Vergil is not the easiest author to read and translate it’s totally fine (I guess). It was a delightful read and I enjoyed some parts more than the others. The 1st, 3rd, 4th,and 6th were my favorites. I don’t want to start commenting now every little aspect of this masterpiece since already flowed rivers of ink related to the subject. I do want to point two things that called my attention especially. My Romanian readers will definitely relate to the first one. In the first Ecloga there are a couple of times when Virgil uses his writings to worship the Roman emperor Augustus, calling him “god” . In the first lines we find:

Meliboeus:

…you, Tityrus, idling in the shade,

teach the woods to echo ‘lovely Amaryllis’.

Tityrus:

O Meliboeus, a god has created this leisure for us.

Since he’ll always be a god to me, a gentle lamb

from our fold, will often drench his altar.”

     What a great propaganda system the poets were! This makes me travel two thousand years in time and remembers Ceaușescu’s propaganda poets in the communist Romania. One of them, Vadim Tudor, at the 20th anniversary of Ceaușescu’s declaration as general secretary declared:

“We delight in the providential existence of this man, so profoundly attached to our ancient land; we should all rejoice in his neverending youth, we should all be grateful for we live in his times and thank him for all these. Only due to his will we are now truly masters in our souls’ home.”

Tismăneanu (2014), p. 256

     The second point that called my attention is the tremendous parallel between the Cumean prophecies from the fourth Ecloga and the prophecies of the Judeo-Christian religion. Also the parallel between the child who was to bring the new race. All these made Christian authors like Augustine or Lactantius think that Vergil was inspired by the Christian God.

“Now the last age of the Cumaean prophecy begins:

the great roll-call of the centuries is born anew:

now Virgin Justice returns, and Saturn’s reign:

now a new race descends from the heavens above.

Only favor the child who’s born, pure Lucina, under whom

the first race of iron shall end, and a golden race

rise up throughout the world”

     Today was a bit more intense than yesterday because of how deep everything I read was. Whenever I approach this kind of literature I take my time and read 3 or 4 times the same passage to be sure I get it. Especially Vergil’s Eclogae took a lot of time due to their density (a lot of things happen in approx. thousand verses).

See you tomorrow,

Denis

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