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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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The journal of an average reader – Day 1 (Among Pilatus, Agamemnon and a modern psychologist)

Today was the first day of this reading marathon and it started no different than any other day. I took my trilingual Greek-Latin-Catalan New Testament and started with a chill reading in Greek of John 19; the scene where Jesus was condemned, beaten up and then crucified. It’s my first time reading this in Greek and it had a very strong effect that I never felt before. The way the text is built up until the “ἰδοὺ ὁ ἄνθρωπος/ecce homo” moment is brilliant and when Pontius Pilatus says these words it’s like the whole universe stands still, complete silence. That’s the effect these words had inside me too. I also enjoyed a lot Pilatus’ answer when the priests went to him and complained about the fact that on Christ’s cross lied written “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”: a simple laconic: quod scripsi scripsi. After finishing the chapter I realized how much I wouldn’t have liked to be in Pilatus’ place.

Next, I took the Spanish edition of the L.D. Reynolds’ classic Scribes and Scholars. Every single word of this book is gold. I love it. It’s so good. It’s a history of the transmission of Greek and Latin texts from the antiquity to the present day. Today I went through the Hellenistic philologists and ended in the 2nd century AD, with the Romans’ interest in their classics (Ennius, Plautus, etc). I enjoyed very much a passage that talks about how Atticus, a good friend of Cicero, helped him to edit and publish some of his works:

“Atticus would carefully revise a work for him, criticize points of style or content, discuss the advisability of publication or the suitability of a title, hold private readings of the new book, send out complimentary copies, organize its distribution. His standards of execution were of the highest and his name a guarantee of quality”

L.D. Reynolds (1968), p.24

    After all these stories about the earliest philologists, how could I go somewhere else but to the Iliad? I will never get tired of rereading this book. Every time there’s something new to discover. Now it’s the first time I read a Romanian translation of the classic and it’s a very special one. It was translated by Dan Slușanschi, who in my opinion is one of the best classicists that Romania ever had. Why do I say it’s special? Well, it has been translated in Romanian hexameters, a very hard and tricky task to do. That’s also the reason why I read it out loud: to hear the effect it had when the Greeks listened to somebody reciting it. I went through the 11th book today when Agamemnon goes on a killing spree and the coward Paris wounds Diomedes from far away with an arrow. There’s this scene, a bit gore,(pretty mild when we consider other scenes) that I liked when Agamemnon refuses to spare the life of two brothers in exchange for a lot of wealth and remembers that he’s at war. I say I like this because of what it meant for the posteriority. (Both Romanian and English translations).

“Prinși ia-ne, mare Atride, și ia-ți cuvenita răsplată:

Multe-avuții stau acasă, la Antimahos în palaturi,

Aur și-argint, cum și fierul cărunt și lucrat și măiastru!

Dintr acestea-ți va da tata chiar necurpinse odoare,

De va afla că trăim și-am ajuns la Ahei, la corăbii!”

Astel plângeau amândoi, înălțând ruga către măritul

Rege, mai dulce ca mierea, dar vorba de-amar auzit-au:

“Dacă lui Antimahos, socotitul, voi fii dragi îi sunteți –

El, ce, la Troia, în sfat, cu îndemn venea pe Menelaos

Cu Odysseu cel zeiesc, cu solie sosiți în cetate,

Să-i  și ucidă pe dată, și iar la Ahri dă nu-i lase -,

Chiar că plăti-veți acum a părintelui vostru ocară!”

Zise, și-apoi pe Peisandru din car îl zvărli în țărână,

Dându-i cu sulița-n piept: el pe spate, în colb prăvălit fu.

Hippolohos sări jos ca să fugă, dar jos îl ucise,

Mâinile lui retezând și luându-i apoi căpățâna,

Și-apoi îl rostogoli, tăvălug prăvălit, prin mulțime.

“Take us alive, thou son of Atreus, and accept a worthy ransom; treasures full many he stored in the palace of Antimachus, bronze and gold and iron, wrought with toil; thereof would our father grant thee ransom past counting, should he hear that we are alive at the ships of the Achaeans.” So with weeping the twain spake unto the king with gentle words, but all ungentle was the voice they heard: “If ye are verily the sons of wise-hearted Antimachus, who on a time in the gathering of the Trojans, when Menelaus had come on an embassage with godlike Odysseus, bade slay him then and there, neither suffer him to return to the Achaeans, now of a surety shall ye pay the price of your father’s foul outrage.” He spake, and thrust Peisander from his chariot to the ground, smiting him with his spear upon the breast, and backward was he hurled upon the earth. But Hippolochus leaped down, and him he slew upon the ground, and shearing off his arms with the sword, and striking off his head, sent him rolling, like a round stone, amid the throng.”

Iliad, XI, 131-148

    Since not everything has to be ancient world, I decided to finish a book I started some time ago and didn’t have time to read lately: Larry Crabb – Connecting. It’s a book about how to heal ourselves and our relationships in a Christian environment. I happened to start reading this when I went through a harsh time in my life and it was a great guide. In my opinion, every single person who lives in a Christian environment should read it. It’s not only going to benefit yourself but also everybody around you.

“A godly vision lets us ignore lots of problems that a selfish vision requires us to focus on. We need to think vision, not problems. And we need to think godly vision, not selfish vision.”

Crabb (1997), p.162

    That’s how my first reading day ended. It wasn’t as full as I wanted it to be because of some secondary issues, but I hope that the next days I’ll be able to dedicate myself more to it. For tomorrow I already prepared Virgil’s Eclogae and some Greek tragedy. We’ll see how it works.

See you tomorrow,

Denis

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