Hector’s Farewell (Why Homer Matters)

Not so long ago I read a book titled The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson. It is 250 pages long, followed by some fifty pages of notes. Today I read Hector’s Farewell, an article of 809 words (I had the computer to count it, I’m not mad!) by Arturo Pérez-Reverte – and it accomplished, without fail, what 250 pages couldn’t: viz. to convince me that Homer matters.

Not that I particularly needed convincing.

I started out blogging some three months ago with dashing off a paragraph lamenting the fact that somebody wrote a long article about Pride and Prejudice and only managed to say what could have been tweeted: that it was a good book. I blithely concluded that much writing about books is a complete waste of time, and then duly proceeded to waste time by writing about books. And now I seem to have come a full circle: I’m in danger of writing a post which, if I’m not careful, will be longer than the article it extols.

I’ll pass the word to Pérez-Reverte instead:

…I was going to see Hector to say farewell to Andromache in real life. And not only once, but many times.

…I saw him say goodbye in various places, with different faces and names, although it was always the same scene. The first time that I was conscious of this was in Cyprus in 1974, when I opened the window of my hotel in Nicosia and saw the sky full of Turkish parachutists. I went down into the street with my cameras hanging around my neck, and as I walked I passed dozens of men saying goodbye to their wives and children to go to battle: brown and moustachoed Greeks, with their shaken faces, hugged their families and then ran in groups, neighbours, relatives and friends, towards the centres of conscription. In the following twenty years I had occasion to see the same men – they were always the same men – in various places of the extensive territory of catastrophes that I traversed then: in the Sahara, Lebanon, Salvador, Chad, Nicaragua, Iraq, Angola, the Balkans… I even witnessed a scene whose similarity to the text of Homer made me tremble, and still does…


…iba a ver a Héctor despedirse de Andrómaca en la vida real. Y no una, sino muchas veces.

…Lo vi despedirse en diferentes lugares, con rostros y nombres distintos, aunque siempre era la misma escena. La primera vez que fui consciente de eso fue en Chipre en 1974, cuando abrí la ventana de mi hotel en Nicosia y vi el cielo lleno de paracaidistas turcos. Bajé a la calle con mis cámaras colgadas del cuello, y por el camino me crucé con docenas de hombres despidiéndose de sus mujeres e hijos para acudir al combate: griegos morenos, bigotudos, que con el rostro desencajado abrazaban a sus familias y corrían luego en grupos, vecinos, parientes y amigos, hacia los centros de reclutamiento. En los siguientes veinte años tuve ocasión de ver a los mismos hombres -siempre son los mismos hombres- en diversos lugares de la extensa geografía de las catástrofes por la que yo transitaba entonces: Sáhara, Líbano, Salvador, Chad, Nicaragua, Iraq, Angola, los Balcanes… Incluso presencié una escena cuya semejanza con el texto de Homero me estremeció, y todavía lo hace…

Although Pérez-Reverte makes a living as a novelist now whose books have been translated into several languages (English included), it is certainly the former war correspondent speaking here. Which, however, does not make him any less convincing. So if you are ever faced with the choice between reading The Mighty Dead and Hector’s Farewell, choose the latter; you’ll save yourself much time. Except there’s a slight catch: you’ve got to be able to read Spanish. So, reluctantly, I amend myself: If you’re ever faced with a choice between The Mighty Dead and El adiós de Héctor – read whichever you can understand!

Throwback Thursday: Originally published on 3 November 2015
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Burns vs Petőfi: Or Whose National Poet Is More S**t?

As far as titles go, this is surely looking for trouble. I mean, I don’t even have to answer the question in the title to succeed in offending the entire population of Scotland and half¹ the population of Hungary. (That would add up to ten million, give or take a few hundred thousand; if you’re pedantic, you can look up the population statistics.)

As you guessed from the title, this post is going to introduce you to some awful poetry. You might be wondering why I want to write about awful poetry, even if this is a literature blog – well, ladies and gentlemen, I suffered Burns’ poetry while reading English at university and Petőfi’s poetry throughout my entire educational career (starting in kindergarten). Now it’s your turn.

Sándor Petőfi
Robert Burns

 

 

vs

 

 

Continue reading “Burns vs Petőfi: Or Whose National Poet Is More S**t?”

El arco romano de Medinaceli (The Roman Arch of Medinaceli)

 

The Roman arch of Medinaceli, Spain. Photo by By Diego Delso via Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 4.0].

La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week:

¡Medinaceli! El arco romano, imperial, mirando con ojos que son pura luz al paisaje planetario de aquellas tierras tan tristes…

(Miguel de Unamuno: Por las tierras del Cid)


Medinaceli! The Roman arch, imperial, looking with eyes of pure light at the planetary landscape of those sad lands…

(Miguel de Unamuno: Through the lands of Cid)

 

Fighting Spirit (Espíritu de lucha)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Androcleidas the Spartan, who had a crippled leg, enrolled himself among the fighting-men. And when some persons were insistent that he be not accepted because he was crippled, he said, “But I do not have to run away, but to stay where I am when I fight the opposing foe.”

(Plutarch: Morals, Vol. III, Sayings of Spartans)


Andróclidas, el espartano, con una pierna mutilada se alistó entre los combatientes. Como algunos insistieran en impedírselo, puesto que estaba mutilado, les dijo: «Pero yo no tengo por qué huir, sino que debo permanecer firme para luchar contra los que se me opongan.»

(Plutarco: Obras morales y de costumbres, III. Máximas de espartanos)

Are You Smarter Than a Robot?

Well, you’d like to think so. Sure, you can’t calculate the cube of 17,302¹ as fast as Siri but you’ve got a brain that’s capable of solving the kind of problems which cause a robot – your computer, your smart phone, your human shaped domestic slave (if you’re reading this in 3000 A.D.) – to freeze.

Shall we put it to the test?

Image by Geralt via Pixabay [CC0].
Continue reading “Are You Smarter Than a Robot?”

Take Preventive Action (Prevenir antes de que suceda)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

That which is at rest is easily kept hold of; before a thing has given indications of its presence, it is easy to take measures against it; that which is brittle is easily broke; that which is very small is easily dispersed. Action should be taken before a thing has made its appearance, order should be secured before disorder has begun.

(Tao Te Ching 64:1)


Lo que está en reposo es fácil de retener.
Lo que no ha sucedido es fácil de resolver.
Lo que es frágil es fácil de romper.
Lo que es menudo es fácil de dispersar.
Prevenir antes de que suceda,
y ordenar antes de la confusión.

(Tao te king LXIV)

The Guns Fell Silent

A hundred years ago, on the Western Front, effectively marking the end of World War I.

My great-grandfather was conscripted in World War I – was taken prisoner of war and survived. My grandfather was conscripted in World War II and disappeared without a trace, leaving his son born posthumously, out of wedlock. What about your family?

Listen to the moment when the guns fell silent and let’s remember all the victims of war – whether soldiers or civilians. (The recording was released by the Imperial War Museum.)

Florence, City of the Renaissance

Renaissance – rebirth – is the Medieval realisation that the classical world, in particular Greece, has something to offer us. One of the places where you can observe Renaissance best ‘in action’ is the Italian city of Florence, in Tuscany, a northern region of Italy. For all that it’s a famous tourist destination, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you do enjoy immersing yourself in the Renaissance – because apart from that, there’s not a lot else to do.

Continue reading “Florence, City of the Renaissance”

The Fifth of November

It being not only Monday but the 5th of November, for today’s quote of the week we’re going to remember the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

The First Suicide Bomber in Britain

To cut a long story short, in 1605, the much persecuted Catholics hatched a plot to blow up Westminster while Parliament was in session and the king, James I, in attendance. A cellar below the building was filled with barrels of gunpowder and Guy Fawkes was left to ignite to fuse. If he succeeded, he would have gone to heaven (or hell) with his victims, but as history would have it, he had been apprehended in the act.

The day when the plot failed, known as Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes’ Night, is still celebrated in England with fireworks and bonfires.

Effigy of Guy Fawkes on the bonfire, Billericay, 2010. Photo by William Warby [CC-BY 2.0]
When I first lived through it, in the near aftermath of the Second Iraq War, I had the worrying sensation of having been transported to Baghdad, because the explosions around the house went on all night. You get used to it eventually, and one year long ago, when Sophisticated Young Lady was not yet sophisticated, nor yet a lady, and Young Friend of the Elephants was even younger than she is now, I’ve even gone to the trouble of making a ragdoll ‘guy’ to burn at the stake of our garden bonfire.

Guess if it rained that year.

Quote of the Week:

Remember, remember
The fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Socrates on Integrity (Sócrates sobre la integridad)

Quote of the Week

Socrates said:

… a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong – acting the part of a good man or a bad.

…For wherever a man’s place is, whether the place he has chosen or that where he has been placed by a commander, there he ought to remain in the hour of danger; he should not think of death or of anything, but of disgrace.

Plato: Apology


La cita de la semana

Sócrates dijo:

A este hombre le daré una respuesta muy decisiva, y le diré que se engaña mucho al creer que un hombre de valor tome en cuenta Ios peligros de la vida ó de la muerte. Lo único que debe mirar en todos sus procederes es ver si lo que hace es justo ó injusto, si es acción de un hombre de bien ó de un malvado.

…todo hombre que ha escogido un puesto que ha creído honroso, ó que ha sido colocado en él por sus superiores, debe mantenerse firme, y no debe temer ni la muerte, ni lo que haya de más terrible, anteponiendo á todo el honor.

Platón: La apología de Sócrates

Carnival of Light

Quote of the Week:

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in Toulouse in 1933 [public domain]

I had been looking on at a carnival of light. The ceiling had risen little by little and I had been unaware of an intervening space between the clouds and me. I had been zigzagging along a line of flight dotted by ground batteries. Their tracer bullets had been spraying the air with wheat-coloured shafts of light. I had forgotten that at the top of their flight the shells of those batteries must burst. And now, raising my head, I saw around and before me those rivets of smoke and steel driven into the sky in the pattern of towering pyramids.

I was quite aware that those rivets were no sooner driven than all danger went out of them, that each of those puffs possessed the power of life and death only for a fraction of a second.

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Flight to Arras)

Back To School

Autumn is here again with mellow sunshine, golden leaves, conkers in the grass and local teams playing football on the pitches behind our house. The uncharacteristic (for this part of the world) sunshine takes me straight back to childhood: where I come from such sunshine is an integral part of September and the time when you go back to school.

So today, we go back to school – although not as you knew it. The following three stories will let you experience education in a different way, in another place, another time. One story will take you back to wooden desks, inkwells, blackboards and chalk; another will take you to the future; the third one can be considered a ‘school story’ only in the widest sense of the word – think of Mowgli being educated in the jungle…

Enjoy!

Continue reading “Back To School”

Borders

This week’s quote is from a satire about the no longer existing Soviet Union seen from the inside. As books come, Venedikt Yerofeev’s short novel, Moscow Stations, was the ultimate in subversion. It’s a book I cannot recommend enough; you can read more about it here.

I hope you enjoy Yerofeev’s cheeky black humour; you can look forward to some more (in-your-face) quotes in the future!

Quote of the Week:

And what are borders anyway? Borders are necessary to stop the different nations getting mixed up. In this country, for instance, a border guard can stand there in the absolute certainty that the border isn’t some sort of fiction or emblem, because on one side people speak Russian and drink more – whereas on the other side they drink less and speak non-Russian. But over there, how can you have borders when everybody drinks the same amount, and they all speak non-Russian?

(Venedikt Yerofeev: Moscow Stations)

Guided Tour

Quote of the Week:

The guide is a layman, he has a dusty grey complexion and talks down to us from his privilege of sharing in the sanctity of the site, a scholar, for the stream of dates and names gushes forth at great speed. He has a record to break, it seems, so I get no more than a glimpse of all there is to see, a mere smattering of the Arab cloister with harmonious pavilion in two styles, Gothic and Moorish, or as my Spanish guidebook says, “el gótico del elevada espiritualidad con el árabe sensorial y humano”. I can believe it: elevated, spiritual, humane, sensual, for before me I see high aspiration and beauty combined, and I hear the self-absorbed trickle of the fountain, but I am not permitted to linger here because the guide has already herded the others into the museum, and is waiting for me like a sheepdog.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)