Quote of the Week: What War?

Today’s quote is longer than usual: it’s an excerpt from Flight to Arras, a novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and it captures the utter exhaustion of a squadron of French pilots during the German offensive on France in June 1940.

Like all Saint-Exupéry novels, Flight to Arras too was inspired by the author’s own experiences. Saint-Exupéry served in the French air force and continued to fight after the fall of France. He disappeared during a reconnaissance flight over the  Mediterranean Sea in 1944; his identity bracelet was finally recovered from the sea in 1998. He’s the author of such classics as The Little Prince, Night Flight and Wind, Sand and Stars.

Quote of the Week:

The major went out, drawing Geley in his wake as if he were a dead fish on the end of a line. It was nearer a week than three days since Geley had been to bed. Like Alias, not only did he fly his sorties, but he carried part of the burden of responsibility for the Group. Human resistance has its limits: Geley seemed to have crossed his. Yet there they were, the swimmer and his burden, going off to the Staff for phantom orders.

Vezin, the sceptical Vezin, asleep on his feet, came teetering over to me like a somnambulist:

“You asleep?”


I had been lying back in an armchair (for I had found an armchair) and was indeed dropping off. But Vezin’s voice bothered me. What was it he had said? “Looks bad, old boy… Categorically blocked… Looks bad…”

“You asleep?”

“I… No… What looks bad?”

“The war,” he said.

That was news, now! I started to drop off again and murmured vaguely, “What war?”

This conversation wasn’t going to get very far.

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Flight to Arras)

More Saint-Exupéry Quotes:Quote of the Week: A Crop of Golden TrajectoriesQuote of the Week: Night

Power and Money (Poder y dinero)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana

When someone brought forward a plan for the freedom of the Greeks, which, while not lacking idealism, was difficult to put into practice, he [Agis son of Archidamus] said, “Your words, my friend, need the backing of power and money.”

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

Cuando alguien proponía para la libertad de los griegos acciones no faltas de nobleza, pero difíciles de realizar, [Agis, hijo de Arquidamo] le decía: «Tus palabras, amigo, necesitan un aval de poder y dinero».

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

Socrates on Wisdom

Socrates, 470-399 BC. [Public domain image via Wikipedia]
The great Greek philosopher, Socrates, left behind no writings. What we know of his teachings and sayings came to us via his students… in particular, Plato.

Quote of the Week:

I only wish that wisdom were the kind of thing that flowed… from the vessel that was full to the one that was empty. (Socrates)

Plato: Symposium

When It Clears Up

Quote of the Week:

Photo by danfador via Pixabay [CC0]

If I wished to see a mountain or other scenery under the most favorable auspices, I would go to in in foul weather so as to be there when it cleared up. We are then in the most suitable mood, and nature is most fresh and inspiring. There is no serenity so fair as that which is just established in a tearful eye.

(Henry David Thoreau: Canoeing in the Wilderness)

More Final than Pompeii

Quote of the Week:

Selinus (Seliunte), Sicily. View of the Marinella di Selinunte and Temple E as seen from the acropolis of Seliunte. Photo by Matthias Süßen [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Fear in a handful of dust. Stillness and sun-petrified ruins. Here lay the ancient city, running north and south, overlooking the sea and the memory of its ships.

Here, then, was all that was left of great Selinus, called rich and powerful by Thucydides, with silver and gold in its temples and a treasury of its own at the shrine in Olympia. One of those sad disputes, with which the Greeks destroyed their promised land of Sicily, destroyed this city.

In 409 B.C. Hannibal and the Carthaginian army razed the walls of Selinus to the ground. Selinus, ‘City of the Wild Celery’ (and we had passed wild celery as we climbed the headland), was extinct by Strabo’s time. It had been a monument to the vanity of human wishes even when the Roman galleys swept past that bright bay…

“More final than Pompeii.”

(Ernle Bradford: The Wind Off the Island)

Don Quijote y el ventero andaluz (Don Quixote and the Andalusian inn-keeper)

Don Quijote & Sancho Panza, Cervantes Monument, Madrid. Photo by Michael Gwyther-Jones [CC BY 2.0] via Wikipedia

La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week:

Viendo don Quijote la humildad del alcaide de la fortaleza, que tal le pareció a él el ventero y la venta, respondió:

—Para mí, señor castellano, cualquiera cosa basta, porque ‘mis arreos son las armas/mi descanso el pelear, etc.’

Pensó el huésped que el haberle llamado castellano había sido por haberle parecido de los sanos de Castilla, aunque él era andaluz, y de los de la playa de Sanlúcar, no menos ladrón que Caco, ni menos maleante que estudiantado paje…

(Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra:
El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha)

Don Quixote, observing the respectful bearing of the Alcaide of the fortress (for so innkeeper and inn seemed in his eyes), made answer, “Sir Castellan, for me anything will suffice, for

‘My armour is my only wear,
My only rest the fray.'”

The host fancied he called him Castellan because he took him for a “worthy of Castile,” though he was in fact an Andalusian, and one from the strand of San Lucar, as crafty a thief as Cacus and as full of tricks as a student or a page.

(Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: Don Quixote)

Easy Promise Never Kept (Promesa ligera nunca cumplida)

The Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana

Lao Tse (6th century BC) [public domain via Wikipedia]

He who lightly promises is sure to keep but little faith; he who is continually thinking things easy is sure to find them difficult. Therefore, the sage sees difficulty even in what seems easy, and so never has any difficulties.

(Lao Tse: Tao  Teh King 63:3)

El que promete a la ligera
merece poco crédito.
El que todo lo encuentra fácil
difícil le será todo.
Por esto, el sabio en todo considera la dificultad,
y en nada la halla.

(Lao-Tse: Tao Te King  LXIII)

Quote of the Week: Church-Shaped Air

Canterbury Cathedral

The late Romanesque façade of the abbey church is decorated with a row of frail columns lacking a base. Not touching the ground, supporting nothing, they simply frame the semi-circular arch through which I enter.

The coolness of the garden contrasts with the head of the landscape, the coolness of the church contrasts with that of the garden, it is almost chilly where I am now. The thick walls of a church prevent the outside air, the ordinary air, from having its way.

Suddenly I am standing before an arbitrary structure made of stone; its mere presence alters the quality of what little air has managed to come in. This is no longer the air wafting in poplars and clover, the air that is moved this way and that in the breeze. This is church air, as invisible as the air outside, but different. Church-shaped air, permeating the space between the columns and, deathly still, like an absent element, rising up to fill the pointed vaulting constructed of rough-hewn blocks of stone.

There is no one in the church. Enormous columns rise directly from the paved floor, the position of the sun casts a strange, static pool of light through the oculus somewhere on the right of the church. It’s a little ghostly. I hear my own footsteps. This space distorts not only the air, but also the sound of each step I take – they become the steps of someone walking in a church. Even if one subtratcs from these sensations all that one does not in fact believe in oneself, then there’s still the imponderable factor that other people do believe, and especially have believed, in this space.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

Why Read the Classics?

In 1981, the Italian writer Italo Calvino wrote an essay titled Why Read the Classics?. It’s less than ten entertaining pages, so I recommend you read it if you can lay your hands on it. (It’s been published in a book form, in a collection of his essays, bearing the same title.)

What follows here is the 14 definitions of what classics are as put forward in the essay – 14 definitions worth thinking about:

Continue reading “Why Read the Classics?”

Pausanias and the Spoils of Plataea (Pausanias y los despojos de Platea)

Quote of the Week

In the Battle of Plataea (479 BC), the allied Greek army was led by the Spartan Pausanias, son of Cleombrotus. In the aftermath of the Greek victory…

When some people were amazed at the costliness of the raiment found among the spoils of the barbarians, he [Pausanias] said that it would have been better for them [the Persians] to be themselves men of worth than to possess things of worth.

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

La cita de la semana

En la Batalla de Plataea (479 a. C.), el ejercito griego fue mandado por el espartano Pausanias, hijo de Cleómbroto. Después de la victoria griega…

Cuando algunos miraban maravillados entre los despojos de los bárbaros el gran lujo de su vestimenta, [Pausanias] les dijo que hubiera sido mejor para ellos ser hombres de mucho valor que poseer cosas de mucho valor.

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


Quote of the Week: Rainbow

From rain into sunshine: double rainbow (Dorset, England)

We get only transient and partial glimpses of the beauty of the world. Standing at the right angle, we are dazzled by the colors of the rainbow in colorless ice. From the right point of view, every storm and every drop in it is a rainbow.

(Henry David Thoreau: Journal, 11 December 1855)

Por qué no deberías leer Shakespeare (Why You Shouldn’t Read Shakespeare)

Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)

Hace mucho tiempo el escritor argentino, Jorge Luis Borges estaba enseñando literatura inglesa en la universidad de Buenos Aires. Un día dijo a sus estudiantes:

A long time ago the Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges taught English Literature at the University of Buenos Aires. One day he said to his students:

La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week:

Si Shakespeare les interesa, está bien. Si les resulta tedioso, déjenlo. Shakespeare no ha escrito aún para ustedes. Llegará un día que Shakespeare será digno de ustedes y ustedes serán dignos de Shakespeare, pero mientras tanto no hay que apresurar las cosas.”

(Jorge Luis Borges: Curso de literatura inglesa en la universidad de Buenos Aires)

If Shakespeare interests you, that’s fine. If you find him tedious, leave him. Shakespeare hasn’t yet written for you. The day will come when Shakespeare will be right for you and you will be worthy of Shakespeare, but in the meantime there’s no need to hurry things.

(Profesor Borges: A Course on English Literature)

Quote of the Week: The God of Triangles

It seems to me, Usbek, that we never judge anything without secretly considering it in relation to our own self. I am not surprised that black men depict the devil as brilliantly white, and their own gods as coal-black, that the Venus of certain peoples has breasts that hang down to her thighs, and in short, that all idolaters have depicted their gods with human faces, and have endowed them with their own propensities. It has been quite correctly observed that if triangles were to make themselves a god, they would give him three sides.

(Montesquieu: Persian Letters)

Van Gogh in the Bookshop (Van Gogh en la librería)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)

So often, in the past as well, a visit to a bookshop has cheered me up and reminded me that there are good things in the world.

Vincent Van Gogh: Letter to Theo Van Gogh, 30 October 1877

A menudo, en el pasado también, una visita a la librería me ha animado y me ha recordado que haya cosas buenas en el mundo.

Vincent Van Gogh: Carta a Theo Van Gogh, 30 de octubre de 1877

Water (Agua)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Lao Tse (6th century BC) [public domain via Wikipedia]

There is nothing in the world more soft and weak than water, and yet for attacking things that are firm and strong, there is nothing that can take precedence of it.

Lao Tse: Tao Teh King 78:1

No hay nada el mundo tan blando como el agua.
Pero nada hay que la supere contra lo duro.

Lao-Tse Tao te king LXXVIII