Tuesday, August 31, 2010

And Another Thing

It would probably be amusing to go through A Series of Unfortunate Events and collect all the little utterings of Sunny Baudelaire. Since Waiting for Godot has been laying around on my kitchen table, my daughter pointed out to me in the 10th volume, entitled The Slippery Slope, where Sunny says "Godot" on page 331. It was helpfully interpreted as meaning "We don't know where to go, and we don't know how to get there." So we have Daniel Handler's opinion on what the play is about.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

You Find the Darndest Things.

Not every teenager is going to have a laughing fit over page 3 in Chapter 14 of the Series of Unfortunate Events, tucked away in the back of Chapter 13 The End. I am rather pleased with myself that she did have a laugh since it is due to my chatter about my various interests that have made her able to chuckle over this. It highlights how important it is to know the 'literary canon' since most authors are also readers and students of history. To understand some of the little jokes hidden in the text and hidden meanings, you need to read the really important stuff too.
" 'You know what 'heartbroken' means,' Sunny said, and then nodded as the baby murmured 'Abelard'. The youngest Baudelaire was best at deciphering the infant's somewhat unusual way of speaking."
I find it interesting that Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snickett) chose Abelard to mean heartbroken. Most commentators over the years have pretty much unanimously (although I do not personally know of any dissenters) agreed that Heloise was the heartbroken one. I agree with Lemony. I think Abelard was a feeling and sensitive person and was just as heartbroken as she was.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

More stories from the 'Romans'

#40 About the Beasts

Basil said in the Hexameron ( a book about the six days of creation), that certain beast are built for the purpose of working and have no value as food, such as horses, mules and asses. Other beasts are built for the purpose of eating and have no value for labor such as sheep, pigs, chickens, waterfowl and peacocks. There also are other beasts, which are not valuable for eating or for work but for guarding the home or purging it like dogs and cats: dogs guard, cats cleanse it.

#48 About the Mage and the World

It is told about a certain learned man who had a particular very beautiful garden, which was full of scented flowers, full of sweet fruit, full of abundance and delight. Whatever was delectable was there. He was never willing to reveal this place unless to fools and his enemies. And when they had been brought inside, they saw all and so much source of delight that they were astonished. When they would ask where they were, the answer to them was they were in paradise.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

De Opresssione

One of the best kept 'secrets' of Medievalists is the "Deeds Of the Romans", a book of stories that has not seemed to catch on with a modern audience although it was a fertile plundering ground for ideas and inspiration to later writers. I felt like translating one of the stories because I thought it was interesting.

About Violence

Claudius ruled, who established on behalf of the law that, if anyone seized a woman and overpowered her by force, it should be by the choice of the woman if he ought to be put to death or if he should have to marry her without a dowry. It happened that a certain man ravished two women in one night. One woman asked for death and the other to be wed. The rapist was seized and lead in person before the judge so that he could answer to the two women in accordance with the law.
The first woman sought the death penalty in accordance with the law. The second woman sought the man for a husband in accordance with the law and said to the first: "It is true, since the law says it, that you should obtain what you ask for. And thus it should be done for me. But since my request is gentler and more affectionate, it seems to me therefore, that the judge will choose on behalf of me". Both women proceeded to see the judge in person and each demanded the privilege of the law. When the judge heard the reasons from each, he ruled for the second woman so that she would be able to marry the man. And thus it was done.

Several thoughts occur to me with this story. First off, raptus could mean abduction, looting, violence, hurrying as well as sexual assault. In this story it seems pretty clear that rape is meant. Secondly, what a busy guy - attacking two women in one night! Thirdly, imagine marrying your rapist! Except that seizing a woman was usually a property complaint; she was the property of her father, brother or husband. Even if she was willing, it could be called rape since she did not usually have the right of consent.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pliny Weighs in on the Global Warming Debate

While the Romans did not have gasoline, they did have coal but Pliny was not talking about greenhouse gases because they had not gotten so bad in his day. He could see that something bad was going on, from his section on mining.

Now the wealth of the mines and the worth of things will be spoken of. Searching out within the layers of the earth is just recently a source of concern since elsewhere it (the earth) is being dug for riches as a career by people seeking gold, silver, amber, bronze, gems, and other delights, even pigments for wall panels. Elsewhere, reckless men seek iron, even more welcome than gold among wars and slaughter. We persistently pursue all of these things to the bowels of the earth and we live over the hole, wondering that at last it splits open or has tremors as if this is not able to be compelled by the displeasure of our sacred parents. We seek wealth in the deepest heart of earth and in the dwelling place of the dead, just as if that, which is being walked on, is not generous or fertile enough. And among these things, we also seek the least important favor of a cure; for what small thing are medicines the motive to compel this defilement, although, on the top part, the earth bestowed this on its people as there is corn and easy abundance in all things and whatever is useful.
These things destroy us; these matters drive us to the nether regions to that which is concealed and buried; these things (which are not to be found suddenly just like the mind, turning over to some futile thought would suddenly reconsider) are that which is to be the end of all things and must be used up entirely as far as greed can reach them. How blameless; how happy, rather even how comfortable life would truly be if man would covet nothing other than what was already above ground, in short nothing but what he already has.

What would Pliny say about the wars and disasters that have attended the production of oil? I dare say he might have gotten up to his gouty feet and smacked somebody over the head for that.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Manendo Godoto

via rustica. arbor.

Estragonus, in tumulo parvo sedens, cothurnum abdere conatur. Id tractat cum utreque manu, anhelitus. Dedit, defessus, quiescit, iterum conatur. Perinde prius.

Estragonus: (Dedens iterum) Nihil factum est.
Vladimir: (prodiens, passibus rigidis et lentis, crura haud tangenta) Incipio illa sententia pervenire. Totis vitis, conatatus eram de me deponere. Aiens - Vladimir, prudens sis - omnis nondum conatus es et contendere iterum incipi. (considerat, cogitans certamine, se vertit ad Estragono) Hic rursus es.

Estragonus: Sumne?
Vladimir: Gaudius sum te reversum videre. Putavi ut in omne tempus abisses.

Estragonus: Velut putavi.

Vladimir: Omnes ad unum denique! Hoc celebraturi erimus! Sed quomodo? (cogitat) Surge quoad te complectar.

Estragonus: (iracunde) Non nunc faces. Non nunc.

Vladimir: (offensus, gelide) Licetne mihi rogare ubi ille rex quieverat?

Estragonus: In fossa.

Vladimir: (admirans) In fossa! Ubi?

Estragonus: (sine gestu) Ibi.

Vladimir: Te non verberavere?

Estragonus: Me verberavere? Ita vero, me verberavere.

Vladimir: Eidem ut soliti sunt?

Estragonus: Eidem? Non scio.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Is That All There Is

Is anyone familiar anymore with that song 'Is That All There Is" made famous by Peggy Lee?
On the one time that I visited Paris, I did not go to the Pere Lachaisse cemetery to gawk at Jim Morrison's grave; I went to Montparnasse and visited the graves of Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Samuel Beckett. I was reading Waiting For Godot again last night.
"No use struggling"
"One is what one is"
"No use wriggling"
"The essential doesn't change"
"Nothing to be done"
Really Samuel? As someone who has spent her life swimming upstream, I would like to echo what Peggy said -"Then let's start dancing." Albert Camus stated in The Myth of Sisyphus that just because life is absurd and meaningless does not mean suicide is the answer. I don't think breaking out the booze is the answer either and yet, to paraphrase Sgt. Elias from Platoon, with enough booze and loud music, you feel like you are actually doing something.
Anyway, watch Bette Midler doing a wonderful rendition of Is That All There Is. Maybe dance a little, too.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Baudolino, A Review

I have read one other book by Umberto Eco and that is Foucault's Pendulum. I really enjoyed it. It was like an intelligent Da Vinci Code with all the proper facts and meticulously researched.
I have not read The Name of the Rose but I have seen the movie and thought it was very good too. It is on my mental 'to read someday' list.
I had high hopes for Baudolino. It began well. The first few pages that introduce the book and the character of Baudolinio were enchanting. He was a young rascal learning to write in Latin and trying to write his autobiography.
Then the story moves forward to his years as an adopted son of Frederick Barbarossa, through the disastrous Third Crusade and sack of Constantinople, as well as the Holy Roman Emperor's difficulties in bringing the Italian city states to heel, and Paris in the 12th century. Eco does 'period' very, very well but then the trip to find the legendary Prester John begins.
In English, the novel is 521 pages long. The trip to the East to find the priest/king begins around page 316 and for sixty pages, Baudolino and his group struggle through a landscape that is very reminiscent of Swift's Gulliver's Travels and is taken partly from Pliny and partly from the letter from Prester John to Manuel I Comnenus, the Byzantine emperor, and from Otto of Freising's chronicle as well as other sources. This trip to the East is said to have provided Wolfram von Eschenbach with some of the details of his Parzival.
Baudolino travelled East with Kyot, who was supposed to have given the story of the Grail to Wolfram. There are several other historical figures travelling with Baudolino like Zosimos, an Arab alchemist, Robert de Boron, and the Archpoet. You could skip over much of the travelling. It is like the camping trip that never ends in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - a big snore.
For another 80 pages, the travellers linger in the East getting to know the fabulous inhabitants and debating theology with them. That was like those long discussions of nihilism in Dostoyevsky - you can skip over much of that without missing anything related to the story. Of course, if you want to read more about gnosticism and other 'heresies', read on. Then there is the flight back to the West and the arrival at Constantinople in time to watch it burn and to meet Niketas Choniates and tell him the story. You could skim over almost 150 pages without missing much in my opinion. Otherwise, it was good; I enjoyed reading about the wars between Frederick and the Italians and the story of the Third Crusade. Eco can write an engaging story without having to tweak the facts and I like that most of the history in the novel is accurate. I say most because there is no Baudolino.
One thing to add - Eco translated the Latin for this novel which will make some people very happy.