How Many Spartans (Cuántos Espartanos)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana

Plutarch (c. 46 AD – c. 120 AD)

When someone inquired how many Spartans there were in all, he [Ariston] said, “Enough to keep away our enemies.”

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


A uno que preguntaba cuántos espartanos había en total, [Aristón] le dijo: «Tantos cuantos son suficientes para mantener apartados a los enemigos.»

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

Patriotism (Patriotismo)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944)

Only he can understand what a farm is, what a country is, who shall have sacrificed part of himself to his farm or country, fought to save it, struggled to make it beautiful. Only then will the love of farm or country fill his heart.


Sólo comprenderá lo que es un dominio aquel que le haya sacrificado una parte de sí mismo, aquel que haya luchado para salvarlo, y penado por embellecerlo. Entonces vendrá a él el amor del dominio.

 (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Flight to Arras / Piloto de guerra)

Seven Ways to Illustrate the Classical Unities

Lockdown boredom reached such levels today that I just had to deviate from the routine on the blog to provide both myself and you with a change of scenery. Ladies and gentleman, please enjoy literature discussed – in the form of infographics!

The Classical Unities

But before we start with any infographics, let’s just remind ourselves of those old grammar school days when such concepts as the classical unities were still actually taught in literature classes*.

The Classical Unities, also known as the Aristotelian Unities, and also – not very originally – known as the Three Unities, are the idea, originating in Aristotle’s Poetics, that a good tragedy should have unity of time, unity of place and unity of action. What these exactly mean, you’ll see illustrated below, but first we might as well pickup our trusty old Poetics and read what Aristotle actually wrote:

Aristotle on the Classical Unities

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)

On the Unity of Time:

…Tragedy endeavours, as far as possible, to confine itself to a single revolution of the sun, or but slightly to exceed this limit…

(Aristotle: Poetics, V)

On the Unity of Action:

…Tragedy is the imitation of an action; and an action implies personal agents, who necessarily possess certain distinctive qualities both of character and thought; for it is by these that we qualify actions themselves, and these—thought and character—are the two natural causes from which actions spring, and on actions again all success or failure depends. Hence, the Plot is the imitation of the action: for by plot I here mean the arrangement of the incidents.

…Now, according to our definition, Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is complete, and whole, and of a certain magnitude; for there may be a whole that is wanting in magnitude. A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. .. A well constructed plot, therefore, must neither begin nor end at haphazard, but conform to these principles.

…Unity of plot does not, as some persons think, consist in the Unity of the hero. For infinitely various are the incidents in one man’s life which cannot be reduced to unity; and so, too, there are many actions of one man out of which we cannot make one action. Hence, the error, as it appears, of all poets who have composed a Heracleid, a Theseid, or other poems of the kind. They imagine that as Heracles was one man, the story of Heracles must also be a unity. But Homer, as in all else he is of surpassing merit, here too—whether from art or natural genius—seems to have happily discerned the truth. In composing the Odyssey he did not include all the adventures of Odysseus—such as his wound on Parnassus, or his feigned madness at the mustering of the host—incidents between which there was no necessary or probable connection: but he made the Odyssey, and likewise the Iliad, to centre round an action that in our sense of the word is one.

As therefore, in the other imitative arts, the imitation is one when the object imitated is one, so the plot, being an imitation of an action, must imitate one action and that a whole, the structural union of the parts being such that, if any one of them is displaced or removed, the whole will be disjointed and disturbed. For a thing whose presence or absence makes no visible difference, is not an organic part of the whole.

(Aristotle: Poetics, VI-VIII)

On the Unity of Place:

Yep. All of that.

The Aristotelian Unities

Good old Aristotle never mentioned unity of place. Perhaps he took it for granted. After all, once you’ve got unity of action (clearly the most important thing) and unity of time, how far can you spread it geographically?

Nevertheless any budding writer would do well to chew his way through Aristotle’s Poetics, because the one thing you can notice while he disperses poetic advice with a liberal hand, is that quite a lot of those things which he criticises as ‘bad’ are standard features of a certain kind of literature, ahem, ahem, you know, the kind which is published with glaring metallic letters on the front cover and has no literary merit whatsoever. So if you’re aiming to win, I don’t know, the Booker Prize, you’d better follow Aristotle’s advice; if on the other hand, you’re aiming to be published by Mills & Boon, you’ll do well to follow the exact opposite of his advice…

The Three Unities:

Now then when people started to read Aristotle again in Europe, almost two millennia years later, the third unity was most definitely added, and gained particular popularity in France where several famous playwrights did their best to adhere to it, so if you go out – what am I saying?! You can’t go out and see a play any more, classical French or otherwise.

So to the devil with that, let’s proceed to the illustrations:

Seven Ways to Illustrate the Classical Unities

Click on the gallery to enlarge the pictures.

Notes:

* You can tell that this post has been inspired by the lack of such things in the literature curriculum of Young Friend of the Elephants - currently home schooling owing to the coronavirus - or, for that matter, in Sophisticated Young Lady's, several years earlier (at the time not home schooling owing to no coronavirus).

Further Reading (or Other People's Take on the Same Topic):The Unities and the Short StoryClassical UnitiesAristotle's Poetics: The Three Unities

Eggs & Cretans

Quote of the Week

Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957)

The eggs had already been eaten, shells and all. Now Captain Michales with a blow from his fist, smashed the pottery egg-cups, and distributed them to his guests to eat. Bertódolus was terrified, took his piece and clung breathless to a cask. With goggling eyes he watched the Cretans at his feet bit their bits of clay and chew them until they became sand and grit, which they swallowed with a snigger.

There are three sorts of men, Bertódolus slowly explained to himself: those who eat eggs without the shells; those who eat eggs with the shells; and those who gobble them up with the shell and the egg-cups as well. Those of the third kind are called Cretans.

(Nikos Kazantzakis: Freedom and Death)

Image Credit: Kazantzakis Museum via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0

Lockdown Diaries: Inmates in Solitary

One of the most bizarre experiences to emerge from the lockdown, at least in our house, is the lonely, self-contained life of the inmates.

You’d think now that we’re all in the house,  we have lots of family interaction: no commuting, we all work/study/live in the same space. And yet.

We’re all in different rooms; not just because some of us increasingly crave privacy but because of work demands: there are all the phone calls, video conferences, webinars and online lessons to participate in at random times of the day. Then there are our different work habits: I like to work with music on; my husband likes to work in complete silence. Young Friend of the Elephants likes to ‘work’ with her door shut so that she can Facetime her friends instead.

Surely as a minimum, we share all the meal times? No. We all get up at different times and trickle downstairs one by one; all end eating breakfast alone. Lunch? Seems absolutely impossible to organise because everybody is on a different schedule. What’s left is dinner, just like when we were not locked into the house, and the rare occasions when people coincide by the kettle in the kitchen. I’m on my tea break now and I can’t find a single soul in the house who’s available for a five minutes’ chat.

My sister said her family was no different. And yours?

Captain Michales

Freedom and Death by Nikos Kazantzakis: A Book Review

Captain Michales is a wild man. His own family calls him the Wild Boar; and when he invites his companions to one of his drinking bouts – which often last for days – not only they dare not to say no, they dare not to stop drinking either, not even if it makes them miserably sick.

Even so, Captain Michales is no wilder than his country, Crete.

The cover of the 2nd Greek edition in 1955 illustrates the spirit of Captain Michales and the book perfectly [Image via Wikipedia}
Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel, Freedom and Death, is set at the end of 19th century when Crete was still a – reluctant – part of the Ottoman Empire. The island saw  a series of rebellions against Turkish rule throughout the 19th century before eventually it became independent and finally united with Greece in the 20th.

Kazantzakis himself was born in Megalokastro (today’s Heraklion) in 1883 and in his autobiographical book, Report to Greco, he hinted that the figure of Captain Michales was inspired by his own father: in the novel he’s describing the world that he grew up in.

A harsh and chaotic world.

Relations between the two groups of inhabitants of the island, the Greeks and Turks, are turbulent to say the least: ethnically motivated murder is a daily occurrence, family vendettas drag out for decades and law is practically non-existent. This forms the background of the novel, which is a story of friendship, jealousy, murder and vengeance, embedded in the larger story of the fight for Cretan independence.

The hero, Captain Michales, is a larger than life figure from the town of Megalokastro. The other chief characters are his Turkish blood brother and at the same time enemy, Nuri Bey; Nuri’s wife Eminé, who strikes passion in more than one man’s heart; Captain Michalis’s extended family, his rivals, his friends and neighbours in Megalokastro; not to mention the Pacha in charge of the island and the spiritual leader of the Christians, the Metropolitan.

In addition to the actual plot line, the novel is like a caleidoscope of colour about life in Megalokastro in that particular moment, strongly emanating the atmosphere of the time and place – for Kazantzakis writing it must have been like reliving his childhood.

It is a memorable book, but brutal: brutal like the hero, and brutal like the times and the country in which he lived. Not for the faint hearted.

Captain Michales stretched out his hand and raised the severed head by the hair like a banner. A wild light haloed his face, which was filled with an inhuman joy. Was it pride, god-like defiance, or contempt of death? Or limitless love for Crete? Captain Michales roared:

“Freedom or…”

Death.

A Moment of War

Quote of the Week:

Laurie Lee (1914-1997)

We gathered in the square, blowing in the ice-sharp wind, and were given long sticks for guns. We were going to attack a ‘strong point’ up the hill, an enemy machine-gun position; a frontal and flanking assault on bare rising ground. “The attack will be pushed home with surprise and determination,” said the Commandant. “It happens all the time.”

…Near the top of the hill, with the banging of the oil-drums much closer, our leaders cried, “Forward! Adelante! Charge!” We leapt to our feet and galloped the last few yards, shouting as horribly as we could, and cast ourselves on the men who had been beating the oil-drums, who then threw up their arms and surrendered, sniggering.
Twenty minutes’ crawling and sauntering up that bare open hill, and we had captured a machine-gun post, without loss. Our shouting died; it had been a famous victory. Real guns would have done for the lot of us.

We finished the day’s training with an elaborate anti-tank exercise. A man covered a pram with an oil-cloth and pushed it round and round the square, while we stood in doorways and threw bottles and bricks at it. The man pushing the pram was Danny, from London. He was cross when a bottle hit him.

(Laurie Lee: A Moment of War)

 

Lockdown Diaries: The ‘New Normal’ in the Swimming Pools

I stopped counting the lockdown with Day 70, 6 days ago, when we managed to get to the seaside in Lancashire and I actually got to swim – for the first time since my pool closed in March. It’s true that the water was barely above knee deep as it was low tide but on the plus side this meant its temperature was perfectly acceptable, instead of being 14 degrees as it would have been at high tide.

Trips to the sea however come round relatively rare in our lives (for all that this is an island); so it was with great excitement that I noticed recently in the news that talk began of the reopening of swimming pools in a month or two’s time.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But without the changing rooms.

Well, arriving already wearing your swimsuit is no major hardship and you can stuff your clothes and purse into a waterproof swimbag and leave it by the poolside. But as for going home… I can’t quite see myself wearing nothing but a dripping wet swimsuit on the bus, among fully dressed fellow travellers!

And what about in winter?

(Perhaps they should take this back to the drawing board.)

El catolicismo explicado a las ovejas (Catholicism Explained to the Sheep)

O, una reseña irregular de un libro que todavía no he leído

Y lo que, además, no han traducido al inglés, así que la mayoría de los lectores de este blog no podrían leer. Hoy, vosotros los hispanohablantes tenéis la ventaja. 🙂

Or an Irregular Book Review about a Book I Haven’t Yet Read

And which is not translated into English anyway so most of you will be unable to read it!

El título: El catolicismo explicado a las ovejas

Pues, el título es alucinante, ¿no?

Todavía no lo sé si el autor es católico o no; o si es católico, que parece probable, si es de hecho un creyente o no. (Ya que ser católico y ser creyente son dos cosas muy distintas.) De todos modos, lo de las ovejas se puede interpretar en dos maneras:

  • la religiosa: Jesús es el Buen Pastor y sus cristianos son las ovejas – como es bien conocido
  • la agrícola: las ovejas son famosos por ser animales estúpidas (también tímidas, pero eso nos importa un pepino aquí)

Total que es un título entretenido que me gusta mucho. (Y también lo gustaba a mi hermanita quien me regaló el libro para mi cumpleaños.)

Si eres un autor no publicado, toma nota: un buen título ayuda mucho en vender tu libro.

The Title: Catholicism Explained to the Sheep

Well, it’s a fantastic title, don’t you agree?

At the moment I still don’t know whether the author is Catholic or not; or if he’s Catholic, which seems probable, whether he is a believer or not. (Since the two is no way the same.) At any rate, the titular sheep can be interpreted in two ways:

  • the religious: Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the Christians are the sheep – as is well known
  • the agricultural: sheep are famous for being stupid (and for being shy as well but we don’t give a toss about that here)

In summary, it’s an entertaining title, and I like it a lot. (So did my sister who gave me the book for my birthday.) 

If you're an unpublished author, take note: a good title goes a long way to sell your book.

El autor: Juan Eslava Galán

Juan Eslava Galán es un autor español, que escribe sobre la historia – ficción y no ficción. El catolicismo explicado a las ovejas no es el primer libro de Juan Eslava Galán que tengo. He leído cuatro y intento leer más, empezando, por supuesto, con El catolicismo… 🙂

Juan Eslava Galán (1948-)

The Author: Juan Eslava Galán

Juan Eslava Galán is a Spanish author of historical books – fiction and non-fiction. Catolicism Explained to the Sheep is not Juan Eslava Galán’s first book that I’ve got. I’ve read four so far, and mean to read more, starting, obviously, with the Catolicism… 🙂

La propaganda en la contraportada

Que dice:

Un libro valiente que responde a muchas cuestiones que atormentan hoy el alma del creyente:

¿Es Dios psicópata? ¿Por qué aconseja el robo y el asesinato?

¿Por qué instaló a los judíos, su Pueblo Elegido, en la única parcela de Oriente donde no hay petróleo?

¿Por qué el Ángel de la Guarda anota en su Libro Mayor los orgasmos de cada católico?

¿Por qué el Espíritu Santo es una paloma en lugar de un ornitorrinco, como sería más lógico?

¿Era puta la Magdalena o todo se debe a una confusión?…

Pues yo no soy una creyente, pero si quiero las respuestas… 🙂

The Blurb

Which says:

A brave book which answers many of the questions that torment the soul of today’s believers:

Is God a psychopath? Why does He advise robbery and murder?

Why did He settle the Jews, his Chosen People, in the only corner of the Middle East without oil?

Why does the Guardian Angel note down in his big book the orgasms of the Catholics?

Why is the Holy Spirit a dove instead of a duck-billed platypus, which would be more logical?

Was Mary Magdalene a whore or is this just a misunderstanding?…

Well, I’m not a believer, but I would like to know the answers! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 70 (The Sea! The Sea!)

Locked Down in Lancashire, Day 70:

After more than two months in lockdown, we went on our first genuine day out…

…to the sea.

P1090782

A vast sheet of water, the commencement of a lake or an ocean, spread far away beyond the range of the eye, reminding me forcibly of that open sea which drew from Xenophon’s ten thousand Greeks, after their long retreat, the simultaneous cry, “Thalatta! thalatta!” the sea! the sea!

Jules Verne: The Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Lockdown is over.

Continue reading “Lockdown Diaries: Day 70 (The Sea! The Sea!)”

Lockdown Diaries: Day 69 (In Rome with Quevedo)

Virtual Escape: In Rome with Quevedo

Evasión virtual: En Roma con Quevedo

Francisco de Quevedo 1580-1645

Much earlier in the lockdown I wrote about some books I’ve got that would make me look good if I dropped dead with them in hand but which I have never read: an anthology of Quevedo’s poetry in the original was one of them.

Mucho antes en la cuarentena, escribió sobre unos libros que tengo; libros que me harían lucir si me muera con ellos en la mano, pero que nunca he leído: la antología de la poesía de Quevedo en el original idioma fue uno de ellos. 

Continue reading “Lockdown Diaries: Day 69 (In Rome with Quevedo)”

A Short History of Sicily

I know we’ve already been to Sicily recently (the lockdown has a lot to answer for)…

…but that was with a 19th century female traveller, Frances Elliot, whose romantic flights of fancy are quite different from what I’m proposing today. 🙂

I don’t remember when exactly I got John Julius Norwich’s book, Sicily: A Short History from the Ancient Greeks to the Cosa Nostra, but I had it on the mantelpiece (where I keep the books I haven’t got round to reading yet) for at least a couple of years. All this extra time in lockdown finally gave me the chance to read it…

Continue reading “A Short History of Sicily”

Lockdown Diaries: Day 68 (Livin’ La Vida)

Locked Down in Lancashire, Day 68: Livin’ La Vida

Okay, so it’s not Spain. But it’s rural Lancashire, with views across the valley from the window, with hedges, drystone walls, palm trees (!) and brooks within walking distance and the sea within driving distance. And driving to places is allowed. 🙂

No virtual escape today, sorry. I’m just going to soak up the countryside and sniff at all the flowers.

 

Keep safe, keep sane – enjoy the flowers! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 67 (Anywhere But Lancashire)

Locked Down in Lancashire, Day 67:

Up on the motorway to Lancashire – instead of having fun in Spain as once planned – to attend to some family affairs while we’re still on holiday. At least we’re now also allowed non-essential travel, so we hope to fit in some hiking too!

Continue reading “Lockdown Diaries: Day 67 (Anywhere But Lancashire)”

Lockdown Diaries: Day 66 (I Brought My Life This Far)

Locked Down in London, Day 66: Politicians

For the past few days, the row about whether a certain politician who broke the lockdown rules by travelling to visit family at some 200 miles’ distance (for childcare reasons) should resign.

In the circumstances I don’t believe that his reason for travelling was acceptable; but that’s just my personal opinion. What I do know for a fact on the other hand is that my family made sacrifices in the interest of public health instead of doing what was the best for us (as I believe did many others!) – while this mother****** did the exact opposite. Ergo, he should resign.

(Of course he won’t.)

Continue reading “Lockdown Diaries: Day 66 (I Brought My Life This Far)”

Life Isn’t a Bore

Quote of the Week:

Venedikt Yerofeev (1038-1990)

Well, anyway, I’ve got to keep on living now. And life isn’t a bore, absolutely not. Life was only a bore for Gogol, and King Solomon. Once you get to thirty, it’s worth having a shot at another thirty, yes, indeed. ‘Man is mortal’ – that’s my opinion. But if we’ve already been born, well, there’s nothing we can do about it, we’ve just got to live a while. ‘Life is beautiful’ – that’s my opinion too.

(Venedikt Yerofeev: Moscow Stations)

Lockdown Diaries: Day 65 (The Cíes Islands)

Locked Down in London, Day 65:

I just remembered: yesterday, if it wasn’t for the coronavirus, we’d have flown out to Galicia.

This would have been the holiday that would have replaced the one that was cancelled in April. Is this depressing or what? At least now we finally grasped that there was no point in rescheduling; instead we’ve joined the ranks of those hopefuls who are expecting their money back from the airline…

Continue reading “Lockdown Diaries: Day 65 (The Cíes Islands)”

Lockdown Diaries: Day 64 (Day Off)

Virtual Escape: Day Off

It’s Saturday night. My boss wanted me to work in the weekend – again! Why? Because she’s got neither a cat, nor a dog and is bored out of her mind in lockdown.

You know what? I’m taking the day off.

I hope you have something ever so much nicer to do than reading my blog for a virtual escape but if your need is desperate, there are 63 days worth of virtual escapes in my

⇒ Lockdown Diaries

P.S. If you just want a chat about books or Herodotus, I’m up for that. 🙂 Leave a comment below.

Keep safe, keep sane – see you tomorrow! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 63 (Sunset Sailing)

Virtual Escape: Sunset Sailing

A few years ago we holidayed in Malta – I wish we could go there right now! – and one we went on an organised trip with a small sailing ship to the Blue Lagoon and the island of Gozo where we had the good fortune to see the Azure Window – which collapsed in a storm the year after. While we were on the way back to Valetta, the sun set on us…

Continue reading “Lockdown Diaries: Day 63 (Sunset Sailing)”