Turquoise

…like sapphires in colour, only that it is paler and more closely resembles the tint of the water near the sea-shore in appearance.

(Pliny the Elder: Natural History, XXXVII.56)

It is found in the countries that lie at the back of India, among the Phycari, namely, who inhabit Mount Caucasus, the Sacæ, and the Dahæ. It is remarkable for its size, but is covered with holes and full of extraneous matter; that, however, which is found in Carmania is of a finer quality, and far superior. In both cases, however, it is only amid frozen and inaccessible rocks that it is found, protruding from the surface, like an eye in appearance, and slightly adhering to the rock; not as though it formed an integral part of it, but with all the appearance of having been attached to it. People so habituated as they are to riding on horseback, cannot find the energy and dexterity requisite for climbing the rocks to obtain the stones, while, at the same time, they are quite terrified at the danger of doing so. Hence it is, that they attack the stones with slings from a distance, and so bring them down, moss and all. It is with this stone that the people pay their tribute, and this the rich look upon as their most graceful ornament for the neck. This constitutes the whole of their wealth, with some, and it is their chief glory to recount how many of these stones they have brought down from the mountain heights since the days of their childhood. Their success, however, is extremely variable; for while some, at the very first throw, have brought down remarkably fine specimens, many have arrived at old age without obtaining any.

Such is the method of procuring these stones; their form being given them by cutting, a thing that is easily effected. The best of them have just the colour of smaragdus, a thing that proves that the most pleasing property in them is one that belongs of right to another stone. Their beauty is heightened by setting them in gold, and there is no stone to which the contrast of the gold is more becoming. The finest of them lose their colour by coming in contact with oil, unguents, or undiluted wine even; whereas those of a poorer quality preserve their colour better. There is no stone, too, that is more easily counterfeited in glass. Some writers say, that this stone is to be found in Arabia also, in the nest of the bird known as the “melancoryphus.”

(Pliny the Elder: Natural History XXXVII.33)

In response to Ailsa's travel theme: Turquoise.

Sun-Drenched

I don’t know about you but at around this time of the year, I invariably reach the point when I could murder for sunshine, flowers and the ability to go out without a coat.

(Not to mention it’s Monday.)

So what we need right now is a little sunshine:

Wishing you all a happy sunny Monday! (Click on the images to enlarge.)

The Lament of King Roderick (La lamentación de don Rodrigo)

In the early 19th century, several English poets, among them Lord Byron, Walter Scott¹ and the poet laureate Robert Southey, were inspired by old Spanish historical ballads. Someday I will explore this topic in more detail but today, I’m merely sharing an excerpt from a ballad known as The Defeat of King Roderick.

A principios del siglo XIX, varios poetas ingleses, entre ellos Lord Byron, Walter Scott¹ y Robert Southey, eran inspirados por viejas baladas históricas españolas. Algún día voy a explorar este tema con más detalle pero hoy sólo estoy compartiendo un extracto de una balada conocida como La Derrota de Don Rodrigo (Los huestes de don Rodrigo).

King Roderick with is troops in the battle of Guadalete / El rey Don Rodrigo arengado a sus tropas en la batalla de Guadalete (Bernardo Blanco) [public domain via Wikipedia]
King Roderick with his troops in the battle of Guadalete / El rey Don Rodrigo arengado a sus tropas en la batalla de Guadalete (Bernardo Blanco) [public domain via Wikipedia]
Continue reading “The Lament of King Roderick (La lamentación de don Rodrigo)”

Under Italian Influence: The Queen’s House in Greenwich

Today I’m going to depart a little from the usual topics to share instead some photos of the Queen’s House in Greenwich – built by one of England’s greatest architects, Inigo Jones. If you wonder why we’re looking at an English building on Mediterranean Monday, it’s because:

  1. The Queen’s House is the first pure, classical, Italianate building in England – which to English eyes at the time must have looked shockingly foreign
  2. Inigo Jones was heavily influenced by the classical architecture he saw in Italy in 1613-14, and in particular by the Italian architect Andrea Palladio
  3. It’s beautiful

Continue reading “Under Italian Influence: The Queen’s House in Greenwich”

The Case for the Elgin Marbles

I was reading Keats last night:

My spirit is too weak – mortality
Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,
And each imagined pinnacle and steep
Of godlike hardship tells me I must die
Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.
Yet ’tis a gentle luxury to weep
That I have not the cloudy winds to keep
Fresh for the opening of the morning’s eye.
Such dim-conceived glories of the brain
Bring round the heart an undescribable feud;
So do these wonders a most dizzy pain,
That mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude
Wasting of old time – with a billowy main –
A sun – a shadow of a magnitude.

(On Seeing the Elgin Marbles by John Keats)

I have to say it threw me a bit. Not quite as easy as “Then I felt like some watcher of the skies / When a new planet swims into his ken” (On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer also by John Keats). In fact, after much mulling over what some of the phrases actually meant, I had to seek enlightment from Mr Anglo-Saxonist who upon reading it pronounced that it was s**t poem and there was no need to rack my brains about what it meant. (He particularly objected to the sick eagle.) Well, I wouldn’t go quite as far but I have to agree: not one of Keats’s best. Nevertheless I do like the last few lines, in particular:

… mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude
Wasting of old time…

Which is why today we’re going to talk about some Greek grandeur and the rude wasting of old time.

Continue reading “The Case for the Elgin Marbles”

Spain in Black & White II (España en blanco y negro II)

No comment.  Sin comentarios. 

(Click on the images to enlarge. Haz click en las imágenes para ampliar.)

You may also like / Quizás también te gusta:Spain in Black & WhiteTales of the AlhambraVenice in Black & White

This also doubles as my entry to Cee's Black & White Photo Challenge this week!

The Roman Theatre of Mérida

The Extremadura region (in the west, bordering Portugal) is not a part of Spain that’s particularly overrun by tourists. But although it hasn’t got beaches, it’s still well worth a visit for anyone who’s at all interested in history, in architecture or indeed, for anyone who’d just like to holiday somewhere beautiful and atmospheric without the crowds.

Continue reading “The Roman Theatre of Mérida”

Mérida in the Extremadura

Mr Anglo-Saxonist hates beaches – in general – and overcrowded Spanish beaches in particular. Which is why, despite of us having visited Spain three times so far, we’ve never yet been down the Mediterranean coast. On the other hand his dislike of beach holidays led us to visit a small town in the west of Spain which, quite simply, blew our minds.

Continue reading “Mérida in the Extremadura”

Sappho: Midnight Poem (Fragment 48)

The Temple of Poseidon at night. Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Temple of Poseidon at night. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Back in the winter of 570 BC or thereabouts, on the island of Lesbos, an elderly Greek woman wrote:

Δέδυκε μεν ἀ σελάννα
καὶ Πληΐαδες, μέσαι δὲ
νύκτες πάρα δ᾽ ἔρχετ᾽ ὤρα,
ἔγω δὲ μόνα κατεύδω.

Which has been translated as (one of the many translations):

Continue reading “Sappho: Midnight Poem (Fragment 48)”

Amun-Ra Sailing Under the Starry Sky

My second favourite profession I would have gone for if I had the choice when I was young? Marine archaeologist.

I just mention this because in the past half-year I was haunting the now closing Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds exhibition of the British Museum which told the story of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, two cities that sank into the Mediterranean Sea (in Aboukir Bay, previously only known to me as the place where Nelson defeated the French). The site is being excavated by the team of Franck Goddio – the marine archaeologist who seems to get to excavate all the best sunken things in the world. (This is envy speaking.)

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A Petrarch Sonnet (Venice Balcony at Night)

A few weeks ago, when I was writing about Egyptian poetry, I made the point that reading poetry in translation is a deceptive exercise since you’re not reading the same poem that poet had, in fact, penned. You might like the translation but quite possibly would not like the original or vice versa. A sonnet by Petrarch today in two different English translations will serve to illustrate the same point… and the Venetian balcony at night will serve to illustrate the sonnet.

Hace unas semanas, cuando escribió sobre la poesía egipcia, he señalado que leer poesía en traducción es un ejercicio engañoso, porque no estás leyendo el poema que el poeta, de hecho, había escrito. Así que te puede gustar la traducción, pero lo original no, y viceversa. Hoy un soneto de Petrarca con dos traducciones ingleses servirá para ilustrar la misma idea… y el balcón de Venecia servirá para ilustrar el poema. El texto original italiano está abajo de los versiones ingleses si quieres leerlo – no hay que hablar italiano para apreciar la cadencia bella del idioma de Petrarca. (También puedes encontrar un enlace abajo para la traducción española.)

Continue reading “A Petrarch Sonnet (Venice Balcony at Night)”

Dark Earth’s Far-Seen Star: Delos Through the Eyes of Pindar

There is a line by Pindar, a fifth-century-B.C. Greek poet, in which he describes the island of Delos, one of the most barren and inhospitable of all Greek islands, as ‘the dark earth’s far-seen star’:

Hail, god-reared daughter of the sea,
earth-shoot most dear to bright-haired Leto’s children,
wide earth’s immoveable marvel,
who of mortals art called Delos,
but of the blessed gods in Olympus the dark earth’s far-seen star…

Dark earth’s far-seen star – the island as seen from above by the gods, glowing with light in the dark sea – is one of those memorable phrases that turned the famous Roman poet Horace into one of Pindar’s life-long fans. Sadly, not much else of this Procession Song survives today (you’ve just read half of what there’s left).

Continue reading “Dark Earth’s Far-Seen Star: Delos Through the Eyes of Pindar”

Venice According to Canaletto: The Doge’s Palace (Then & Now)

Venice, the ultimate tourist destination, was already popular as far back as the 16th and 17th century: it was one of the obligatory stops on the so-called Grand Tour, when wealthy young men – principally English – travelled for a few years in Europe to complete their education. The Grand Tour was, in a manner of speaking, a posher and lengthier forerunner of the modern gap year. Or – if we’re less charitable – of the package holiday. In any case, the Grand Tourists invariably wound up in Italy; and we owe them a number of varyingly entertaining travel accounts as well as far too many paintings of young Englishmen posing in togas in front of well-known Italian landmarks.

Continue reading “Venice According to Canaletto: The Doge’s Palace (Then & Now)”

Hills (And What People Built On Them)

Hills are a natural choice as locations for some of the most beautiful structures mankind has ever erected: castles and temples, statues and palaces, lighthouses and crosses – I’m sure you all can think of many stunning examples. Today, in response to Ailsa’s weekly travel theme Hills on her blog Where’s My Backpack, I thought I’d share with you some of the hills I had the good fortune to climb in the Mediterranean. And I chose these particular hills for one reason: what people chose to build on them.

The Old Town of Toledo

Toledo
Toledo

The old town of Toledo was built on a hill which is almost fully encircled by the River Tajo. This view shows the Roman bridge across the river with the Alcázar of Toledo topping the crest of the hill. For this view alone, Toledo will always be one of my favourite cities.

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Nelson, Naples…

There’s a new exhibition about to open in the National Maritime Museum of Greenwich, titled Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity. For the sake of those among you who ‘didn’t win first prize in the lottery of life’: Lady Hamilton is famous for being the lover of Admiral Nelson, the victor of Trafalgar and the saviour of England.

I first heard of Nelson when I was about seven and the Hungarian Television broadcasted the 1941 black-and-white tearjerker, That Hamilton Woman. Being too young to grasp that the handsome Royal Navy officer on screen was in fact Laurence Olivier, rather than Nelson himself, at the end of the film I was left with a life-long admiration for Nelson, a life-long dislike for Bonaparte and a complete unawareness of who Laurence Olivier was.

Moonlit Night in Naples by Sylvester Shchedrin via Wikipedia (Public domain).
Moonlit Night in Naples by Sylvester Shchedrin via Wikipedia (Public domain). This romantic scene evokes long forgotten memories of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in a location that – owing to the war – couldn’t possibly have been Naples…

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The Secret of the Greek Galley

The Antikythera Shipwreck

In 1900, sponge divers discovered the wreck of an ancient Greek galley off the Aegean island of Antikythera more than fifty metres deep under the surface. As usual, the find threw up a load of questions: Where did the galley come from? Where was it going to? Why did it sink? Who were the passengers? And what is that mysterious, complex mechanism found in the wreck?

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The Harper’s Song: Enjoying Life After Death in Ancient Egypt

I bet ancient Egyptian poetry is not your strong point – it certainly isn’t mine! To begin with, I do rather subscribe to the view that while a great poem in translation may be still a great poem, it’s just not the same poem. So no matter how much you love Petrarch’s sonnets, if you only read them in English, there’s always the ever so slight chance that you don’t like them all that much, actually. (I had this experience with Wordsworth, myself. Fine poet in Hungarian translation. I’m not so keen in the original.) So when it comes to ancient Egyptian poetry, there’s the small problem that much as I like to stare at the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, the only hieroglyphs I can ‘read’ on it belong to Ptolemy’s name, and well, that doesn’t get me far in reading poetry.

So with that caveat let’s have some Egyptian poetry in translation. 🙂

Continue reading “The Harper’s Song: Enjoying Life After Death in Ancient Egypt”