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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