Pen Mightier than Sword (Pluma más poderosa que espada)

Authors with Sword in Hand

Throughout history, there were soldiers who wielded the pen with as much as skill as they wielded the sword; sometimes better.

Autores con la espada en mano

A lo largo de la historia, hubo soldados que manejaron la pluma con tanta habilidad que la espada; a veces, mejor.

Most of the literary output of these soldier-writers was, understandably, autobiographical: descriptions of battles and campaigns they took part in. A classic example of this is Xenophon’s Anabasis, better known as The March of the Ten Thousand, a gripping account of the retreat of ten thousand Spartan mercenaries in the wake of a lost battle across hostile territory, from Mesopotamia all the way to the shores of the Black Sea. Another is Bernal Díaz del Castillo’s The Conquest of New Spain, a similarly gripping (at least in the abridged version) account of how four-hundred desperadoes under Hernán Cortés conquered Mexico and overthrew an entire empire in the process. I warmly recommend them both.

La mayor parte de la producción literaria de estos soldados-escritores fue, naturalmente, autobiográfico: descripciones de batallas y campañas en que lucharon. Un ejemplar clásico de este tipo de libro es La anábasis de Jenofonte, mejor conocida con el título La marcha de los Diez Mil, un relato emocionante de la regresa de diez mil mercenarios espartanos después de una batalla perdida, a través de un territorio hostil, todo el camino desde Mesopotamia hasta las orillas del Mar Negro. Otro relato que es semejante emocionante (por lo menos en la versión abreviada) es la Historia verdadera de la conquista de Nueva España por Bernal Díaz del Castillo, que narra como cuatro cientos aventureros bajo el mando de Hernán Cortés han conquistado Mexico y derrocado un imperio entero en el proceso. Os recomiendo ambos libros.

But in addition to these authors, there were a handful of soldiers who are better known by literature professors than by military buffs; a handful of soldiers who are more famous for being authors than for ever having been soldiers.

Pero además de esos autores, hubo un puñado de soldados, que son mejor conocidos por profesores de literatura que por aficionados de la historia militar; un puñado de soldados que son más famosos por ser autores que por su pasado como soldados.

Meet five of them.

Aquí abajo puedes conocer a cinco de ellos.

Aeschylus (c. 525-c. 456 B.C.) /

Esquilo (525-456 a.C.)

Aeschylus

This Athenian playwright fought in both Persian Wars, at the battles of Marathon and Salamis respectively (490 and 480 B.C.) but he owes his fame not to his military prowess but to winning the Athenian drama competition – thirteen times. His surviving plays are ample testimony of his talent and only one of them, The Persians, draws on his war experiences. If a play by Aeschylus ever comes to be staged near you, don’t miss out on it.

(It might be wise to study a bit of Greek mythology first though!)

Este dramaturgo de Atenas luchó en ambas guerras persas, en las batallas de Maratón y de Salamina (490 y 480 a.C.), pero debe su fama al hecho de que ha ganado el concurso de dramaturgos de Atenas – trece veces. Sus obras supervivientes nos demuestran su talento, y sólo una de ellas, Las persas, es el resultado de sus experiances de las guerras persas. Total que si una de sus obras viene a un teatro cercano a tu barrio, que vayas.

(Aunque sería una buena idea estudiar un poco de la mitología griega antes del teatro.)

Luís Vaz de Camões (c. 1524-1580)

Luís Vaz de Camões

Known as ‘the father of Portuguese’ on account of his epic poem, The Lusiads, this sixteenth-century author lived a turbulent life, having been often imprisoned for duelling and debts. When not in prison, he served in the Portuguese army in North Africa and the Far East.

The Lusiads recounts the epic voyage of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, the first man to round the Cape of Good Hope on the way to India – the route that Camões himself travelled a generation later.

Conocido como la padre del idioma portugués, debido a su epopeya, Los lusiadas, este autor del siglo XVI vivió una vida turbulenta, y fue encarcelado a causa de sus deudas y duelos. Cuando no estaba en cárcel, sirvió en el ejército de Portugal en el norte de África y el Oriente Lejano.

Los lusiadas narra el viaje épico del explorador portugués, Vasco da Gama, quien fue el primero en doblar el Cabo de Buena Esperanza viajando a India – la ruta que el mismo Camões siguió una generación más tarde.

Miklós Zrínyi (1620-1664)

Miklós Zrínyi

Or to be exact, Zrínyi Miklós in the original Hungarian where surname always comes first; known as Nikola Zrinski in Croatian (he came from a mixed ancestry). Among the five here he is the only one who is as famous as general and military strategist as he is as poet.

Zrínyi is the author of the first Hungarian epic poem, translated into English under the title of The Siege of Sziget. Influenced by Homer’s Iliad and Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered, he tells the story of the heroic but failed defence of the Hungarian castle of Szigetvár by his own great-grandfather (also called Miklós Zrínyi) in 1566. Incidentally, this poet-general spent his life defending his country against the same enemy – the Ottoman Empire – as his great-grandfather: the Turkish wars in Hungary lasted literally centuries.

O, para ser exacto, Zrínyi Miklós, en la forma original de su  nombre en húngaro, como que los húngaros siempre llevan sus apellidos antes del sus nombres; conocido en Croacia como Nikola Zrinski (fue de una ascendencia mezclada). Entre los cinco aquí él es el único que es famoso tanto por ser general y estratega militar como poeta.

Zrínyi es el autor de la primera epopeya húngara, El peril de Sziget (que desafortunadamente no ha sido traducido al español que yo sepa, pero puedes encontrarlo en inglés, francés o italiano). Influenciada por la Ilíada de Homero y Jerusalén liberada por Tasso, la epopeya narra la historia de la heroica pero fallada defensa del castillo húngaro, Szigetvár, en 1566. El comandante del castillo fue el propio bisabuelo del poeta (también llamado Miklós Zrínyi). Y, a propósito, este poeta-general pasó su vida defendiendo su país contra el mismo enemigo que su bisabuelo: el imperio otomano – en Hungría las guerras contra los turcos duraron, literalmente, siglos.

Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400)

Geoffrey Chaucer

Often called the ‘father of English literature’, Chaucer owes this epithet to having penned The Canterbury Tales, a collection of twenty-four tales mostly written in verse which are set against the background of a story telling competition during a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Thomas Beckett in Canterbury. Written in Middle English, it’s still in print both in its original version and Modern English ‘translations’.

And the author’s military credentials? Chaucer took part in the Hundred Years’ War and was captured (and ransomed) during the siege of Rheims in 1360.

A menudo llamado el padre de la literature inglesa, Chaucer ha recibido este epíteto por su obra, Los cuentos de Canterbury, una colección de veinticuatro cuentos, en la mayor parte en verso. Los cuentos son relatados por distintos personajes quienes se encuentran durante un peregrinaje al sanctuario de Thomas Beckett en Canterbury. Los cuentos de Canterbury ha sido escrito en inglés medio, es decir, en la lengua de aquel tiempos y todavía se puede comprar esta versión además de las traducciones al inglés moderno.

¿Y las credenciales militares de Chaucer? Pues participó en la Guerra de los Cien Años, y fue capturado (y rescatado) durante el asedio de Rheims en 1360.

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616)

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Last but by no means the least; for is there anybody who hasn’t heard of Don Quijote? It was penned at the beginning of the seventeenth century by a Spanish soldier who had fought – and had been maimed – in the Battle of Lepanto (1571).

Cervantes’s comic masterpiece describes the addle-brained adventures of a self-appointed knight and his faithful sidekick, Sancho Panza, up and down in the Spanish province of La Mancha. The impact and influence of Don Quijote was so great that Spanish nowadays is often called ‘the language of Cervantes’.

Pues seguramente no hay nada nuevo que puedo contar sobre Cervantes a vosotros hispanohablantes, ¿no?  🙂 

If you wish to add to this - by no means exhaustive - list, feel free to leave a comment below.

Si quieres añadir a esta lista que no exhaustiva de ninguna manera, déjame un comentario aquí abajo.
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Six Mouse Clicks

The most boring type of blog post?

A book review.

They all follow the same predictable pattern – understandably. After all, a reader will rightfully expect information about the plot, the characters and the style of writing, with some tidbits about the author. The result, as with any genre writing, is a complete lack of creativity.

That is why, although Waterblogged is ostensibly a book blog, I was never really in the business of writing book reviews. Nevertheless, over the past three years I found myself writing a handful. There are books that are so good that you can’t help recommending them to others.

(There was, of course, an exception. You’ll find it here.)

Six reviews; six mouse clicks.  Six books you will want to read.

Fiction – English-Speaking Countries:

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Fiction – Spanish-Speaking Countries:

Death in the Andes

Fiction – Rest of the World:

Moscow Stations

History:

City of Fortune

Biography:

The Novel Life of Britain’s Greatest Frigate Captain

Autobiography:

The Bible in Spain

Throwback Thursday:
Revisiting the early days of Waterblogged

Pretentious Beginnings

It’s hard to believe – especially given how small the readership is – but the blog is actually turning 3 years old this month. This prompted me to look back on the early days and I have to admit: I was the typical swaggering, pretentious, self-important blogger who thinks that her opinion matters.

Er… nothing changed there then.

Continue reading “Pretentious Beginnings”

The Master of Cold Mountain

Don’t you know the poems of Han-shan?
They’re better for you than scripture-reading.
Cut them out and paste them on a screen,
Then you can gaze at them from time to time.

Don’t you know the poems of Han-shan? Don’t you know Han-shan, the hermit and accidental poet, the legendary Master of Cold Mountain, the early Chinese Zen philosopher?

Well, if you don’t, it’s time you got to know him. 🙂

Continue reading “The Master of Cold Mountain”

El Samurai

Read this in English: The Samurai

…y el sacerdote

Porque El samurai, esta novela por el autor japonés, Shusaku Endo, tiene de hecho dos protagonistas, aunque el título sólo menciona uno. Dos personajes principales en paralelo: unidos en el propósito pero, al mismo tiempo, con un marcado contraste entre los dos.

El propósito que une el samurai Rokuemon Hasekura y el padre Velasco es negociar privilegios comerciales con Nueva España para los japoneses a cambio de que los misioneros europeos puedan predicar al cristianismo en Japón. Lo que los separa es… pues todo los demás, empezando con sus razones para participar en la embajada. El año es 1613, y el caudillo Tokugawa Ieyasu acabó unificar Japón bajo su propio mando.

¿Y la recompensa para los dos protagonistas después de un viaje arduo cruzando dos océanos? El samurai espera que recobre sus tierras solariegas; el sacerdote sueña de hacerse el primer obispo de Japón. Pero sus Señorías sólo les conceden sus deseos si consiguen la misión …  ¿pueden hacerlo?

Continue reading “El Samurai”

Six Books, Six Continents

Africa

Red Strangers by Elspeth Huxley

Africa has a lot going for it as a continent – like elephants – but somehow it doesn’t often feature among my readings. (That could be because I don’t keep re-reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.)

I read Red Strangers for a reading challenge a couple of years ago and boy, was it a challenge!… But the last paragraph made up for it all.

⇒ A Girl Called Aeroplane

(Do let me know what you think of it!)

Continue reading “Six Books, Six Continents”

The Samurai

…and the Priest

Because The Samurai, this novel by Japanese author Shusaku Endo, has two protagonists for all that only one of them is mentioned in the title. Two main characters in parallel, united in purpose – yet in contrast to each other.

The purpose that unites them is gaining an agreement for the establishment of direct trade between Japan and Nueva España, New Spain, in exchange for Japan allowing Christian misssionaries to proselytise in the country. What separates them is… everything else, beginning with their reasons for setting out on the embassy. The year is 1613, and the warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu has recently managed to unify Japan under his own rule.

The samurai, Rokuemon Hasekura, hopes to get his ancestral lands back; the priest, Father Velasco, dreams of becoming the Bishop of Japan. Their desires will only be granted if their mission is successful…  can they carry it off?

Continue reading “The Samurai”

Matar a Leonardo da Vinci (To Kill Leonardo da Vinci)

Visité Florencia, esta ciudad del arte renacentista, por unos días la semana pasada – un viaje organizado en la última hora, se puede decir. Viajé acompañado por un libro que, muy adecuadamente, lleva un retrato de la ciudad en la tapa: Matar a Leonardo da Vinci por el autor español, Christian Gálvez.

I visited Florence, this city of Renaissance art, for a few days last week – a last minute trip. Travelled in the company of a book which, very appropriately, carries a drawing of the city on the cover: Matar a Leonardo da Vinci (To Kill Leonardo da Vinci) by the Spanish author Christian Gálvez.

View of Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo
A word of warning here for English readers: this book review is going to benefit you little since it deals with a book which, to the best of my knowledge, hasn't been translated into English yet - and frankly, no loss if it never will be. With that caveat, please feel free to continue reading. :) (At least you'll know to avoid it if it ever comes out in English!)

Continue reading “Matar a Leonardo da Vinci (To Kill Leonardo da Vinci)”

The Aegean (Aqua & Azure)

 

My last minute entry to the Pic & A Word Challenge Aqua and Azure

You might also like:Sailing the Aegean with Odysseas ElytisThe Caldera of SantoriniThe Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion

Submarine!

Visits to Chatham Historic Dockyard, home among others to the diesel-electric submarine HMS Ocelot, and to the Royal Navy Museum in Portsmouth, home to HMS Alliance, a submarine built at the end of World War II, means I’ve got some photos of the outside and inside of the submarines to share. (Click on the gallery to enlarge photos.)

This being primarily a book blog, the photos are accompanied by a book list – half a dozen books set on submarines. Not a definite list, by any means; I have heard of several others well spoken off (but I haven’t got round to reading them yet). If you’d like to recommend a book on submarines that you enjoyed, please leave a comment below.

Continue reading “Submarine!”

The History of England in a Dozen Maps (La historia de Inglaterra en doce mapas)

1. Doggerland (8000 B.C. / 8000 a.C.)

“Dogger. Gale warning.
Gale warning issued 14 March 03:43 UTC¹.
Wind southeast 4 or 5, increasing 6 to gale 8. Sea state moderate, becoming rough or very rough. Weather: occasional drizzle. Visibility good, occasionally poor.”

Shipping Forecast, issued 14 March 17:25 UTC, Met Office

If you ever heard the shipping forecast on BBC Radio 4 (an oddly soothing recital except when it’s inserted into the middle of the nailbiting finish of a test match), then you know that Dogger is one of the forecast zones in the North Sea.

Si has oído, alguna vez, el shipping forecast, es decir, el pronóstico marítimo, de BBC Radio 4 (un recital extrañamente tranquilizador (excepto cuando lo leen durante el emocionantísimo final de un partido internacional de críquet), sabes que Dogger es una de las zonas pronósticas marítimas en el Mar del Norte.

How Britain became an island. Illustration by Francis Lima via Wikipedia [CC-BY-SA 4.0]
Up to 8000 B.C. Britain was connected to the Continent by a land bridge and Doggerland was above sea level. But as glacial ice melted after the last ice age, sea levels rose: Britain became an island, while Doggerland went to the bottom of the deep blue sea…

La mapa arriba ilustre como Gran Bretaña se convirtió en una isla.

Hasta 8000 a.C. Gran Bretaña estaba conectado al continente con un ‘puente’ de tierra y el territorio de Doggerland se encontró arriba del nivel del mar. Al terminar la era glacial, el nivel del mar se elevó: Gran Bretaña se convirtió en una isla, mientras que Doggerland se hundió al fondo del mar…

Recommended reading:We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome

Continue reading “The History of England in a Dozen Maps (La historia de Inglaterra en doce mapas)”

Hic Sunt Dracones

Here Be Dragons

Close your eyes and imagine one of those old maps which were illustrated with caravels and and fantastic sea animals, where the blank centre of Africa was marked terra incognita and faraway islands were labelled with the warning, Hic Sunt Dracones, Here Be Dragons¹. Is your pulse racing yet? Maps have an intoxicating power for those addicted to travel; historical maps are similarly intoxicating for those addicted to history. Since I’m addicted both to travel and history, you can imagine in what state maps leave me…

(Hic!)

Aquí hay dragones

Cierra los ojos e imagínate uno des esos mapas antiguos, ilustrados con carabelas y animales marinos fantásticos, donde el centro en blanco de África se marcaba terra incognita e islas del ultramar se marcaban con la advertencia, Hic Sunt Dracones, aquí hay dragones¹. ¿Te acelera el pulso? Mapas tienen un poder embriagador para los que son adictos al viaje, y mapas históricos tienen un poder semejante embriagador para los que son adictos a la historia. Como que yo soy adicto a ambos, puedes imaginarte en que estado me quedo después de admirar unos mapas…

(¡Hip!)

Map of the Pacific Ocean by Ortelius, 1589. The ship drawn out of all proportions in the southeast quadrant is Magellan’s Victoria, the first ship to circumnavigate the globe. [Public domain via Wikimedia Commons]
Which is perhaps why it occurred to me the other day that there are worse ways of summing up a country’s history than by examining a handful of telltale maps. A few countries immediately spring to mind as excellent candidates for this kind of exercise: I’ll start with my adopted country, England.

Quizás por eso me ocurrió la idea de contar la historia con un puñado de mapas elocuentes. Unos países se ofrecen inmediatamente como candidatos excelentes para este tipo de ejercicio: voy a empezar con mi país adoptivo, Inglaterra.

And since this pretends to be a book blog, I’ll throw in a handful of book recommendations too!

Y como eso pretende ser un blog de libros, ¡voy a añadir unos recomendaciones de libros también!

I hope you’ll enjoy The History of England in a Dozen Maps (coming tomorrow), the first post in what I hope to turn into a new series under the title of Mapping History.

Espero que os guste La historia de Inglaterra en una docena de mapas (saldrá mañana), el primer post en un series nuevo que intento con el título Mapping History (Historia en mapas).

Notes:
¹ Wikipedia tells me that hic sunt dracones doesn't actually pop up on any map. Well, it's still a good phrase. :) It does appear, however, on the Hunt-Lenox Globe near the eastern coast of Asia and it might have been referring to the Komodo dragons. It might have.

¹ Wikipedia me dice que la frase hic sunt dracones, de hecho, no aparece en ningún mapa. Bueno, aun así se queda una frase encantadora. Se aparece, sin embargo en el Globo de Hunt-Lenox Globe, cerca de la costa oriental de Asia y pudiera referirse a los dragones de Komodo. Pudiera, dije. 

Guess the Picture (Adivina la imagen)

I’ve been out and about last weekend – despite of the snow and the freezing wind – and took this picture. It’s of a jaw-dropping exhibit in one of my favourite museums.

Estaba saliendo el pasado fin de semana, a pesar del nieve y el viento helado, y saqué esta foto. Es de una exposición alucinante en uno de mis museos favoritos.

Can you guess what it is? Then leave a comment below.

¿Puedes adivinar qué es? Pues déjame un comentario abajo.

You’ll find the answer in next Wednesday’s post, together with some less cryptic photos…!

Encontrarás la solución en el post del miércoles que viene, ¡junto con unas fotos menos enigmáticas…!

Out Of This World: The Brighton Space Elevator

After more than half a year of limiting myself to taking holiday photos, last week I suddenly remembered that I used to work my way through the 2016 Dogwood Photography Challenge. For those of you who don’t know, this is a 52-week challenge aimed at helping you to become a better photographer (it’s been extended to 2017 and now 2018 as well) and you can thank it for the only picture of me that you’re ever going to see on this blog – due to the fact that the week 1 challenge required a self-portrait…

Continue reading “Out Of This World: The Brighton Space Elevator”

Ode to Santorini

This summer it’ll be five years ago that I visited Santorini for what then I thought was the first but now suspect was also the only time. I didn’t know the poetry of Odysseas Elytis then even though he had won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1979 and I did – twice! – graduated in literature. Admittedly, neither of those degrees was in Greek literature but you don’t study literature, in any language, in a vacuum, and my ignorance of a Nobel Prize winning poet seems preposterous in retrospect.

Continue reading “Ode to Santorini”

Implacabile (The Corvette that Never Was)

The Impacabile!

Monostory’s heart sank a little, just a little. The old memory returned: his first ship, the Implacabile, was also a warship… and if she still existed… if she could have taken up her station in Fiume to guard the port… if… and again, if…

(András Dékány: The Black Prince)

I wanted to start this post with the adrenaline-rush of a heroic fight of the Hungarian frigate Implacabile against overwhelming odds during the 1848-49 War of Independence on the Adriatic – as told by András Dékány in his novel The Black Prince

Unfortunately, Dékány didn’t go into sufficient detail.

The legend of the Implacabile lives in the consciousness of the sea-loving minority of the Hungarian public because of András Dékány’s novel. He seduced generations of Hungarian children with it; it forms the background of the protagonist Balázs Monostory. Yet Dékány never fully developed the story of the Implacabile. He contented himself with a handful of suggestive and emotive fragments, like the moment when the Taitsing crosses with Chinese pirates:

The Taitsing surged ahead, running before the wind. She was a wonderful ship, with a wonderful crew.
“The Implacabile!” the joyful memory bubbled up in Monostory.
Yes; the lost, sunk Hungarian frigate sped like this as she charged into battle against the Austrian emperor’s corvette.
“The Implacabile!”

In a novel that runs to more than 400 pages, Dékány only mentioned the ship’s name 13 times. This, however, didn’t prevent him to play expertly with his readers’ imagination and emotions. From the emotive half-sentences he scattered throughout the novel we created an entirely fictitious, glorious fight between the first Hungarian frigate and untold scores of Austrian warships on the bluest of all seas, the Adriatic. And so the legend of the Implacabile was born, thanks to a children’s book.

On the north wall of the cabin, there was, however, one thing to arrest a visitor’s attention: you could see a ship’s flag here, spread out. The flag was rather faded with time but it was a ship’s flag – a rare object. The flag of the Implacabile, the first Hungarian Navy frigate, sunk ten years earlier and commanded by Balázs Monostory, was the only decoration in the cabin of the captain of the Taitsing.

The flag, saved when the frigate sank, had accompanied Balázs Monostory for ten years. But so far he failed to realise his plan of handing it over to his leader, Lajos Kossuth, a man in exile just like the owner of the cabin himself.

Gabriela Malatesta’s eyes clouded over as she looked at the flag. Red-white-green. Those same colours formed the flag of the Italian patriots.

The fragments of information actually shared by Dékány in The Black Prince add up to this:

  • The Implacabile was a Hungarian frigate, intended to defend the harbour of Fiume but has never taken up her station to do so
  • Her captain was Balázs Monostory
  • She fought the Austrian corvette Condor – incidentally also commanded by a Hungarian officer – off the coast of Istria on the Adriatic during the 1848-49 War of Independence
  • During the battle, the sailors of the Implacabile used hand bombs fabricated on board in the manner of the Italian carbonaris 
  • She sunk after the battle and her shipwrecked sailors were rescued by a passing Turkish warship

But what’s the truth – if any – behind the legend? Did the Implacabile even exist? And if she did, did she ever fight a warship of the Emperor of Austria on the Adriatic?

Continue reading “Implacabile (The Corvette that Never Was)”

Four Seasons in Japan – with Matsuo Basho

“Haiku”, it is said in Japan, “began and ended with Basho.”

Translator’s Introduction to The Sound of Water: Haiku by Basho, Buson, Issa and Other Poets by Sam Hamill

Two weeks ago, in the conclusion of The Four Seasons in Japan, I promised that I would revisit haikus, with a specific focus on Matsuo Basho (you know: the first, the last and the only… in other words, the greatest writer of haikus), so:

  • first a little introduction to Matsuo Basho’s life and poetry
  • followed by part II of The Four Seasons in Japan

Enjoy. 🙂

Continue reading “Four Seasons in Japan – with Matsuo Basho”