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.
Advertisements

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

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”

Seven Snowy Stories

The winter’s first – and in these parts possibly only – snowfall put me in mind of books in which winter features prominently. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ones that came to mind immediately were children’s stories. So here are seven snowy stories to surprise your children (nieces, nephews, grandchildren, your best friend’s horrible brat…) with. Perhaps for Christmas? 🙂

Continue reading “Seven Snowy Stories”

A Bear of Very Little Brain (The World According to Pooh)

The other day, in the course of an argument, somebody called me a person with a small brain.

Even while I took offence, I recalled a line from my childhood bible, Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne:

“For I am a Bear of Very Little Brain and long words Bother me.”

(Winnie-The-Pooh)

I’m all with the Bear of Very Little Brain on this one: long words bother me too. Especially when used by people who don’t know what they mean.

Continue reading “A Bear of Very Little Brain (The World According to Pooh)”

Los lusiadas o como Portugal se ganó un imperio

Read this in EnglishThe Lusiads or How Portugal Won an Empire

Fui a Portugal para una semana con un libro, y volví con dos; lo nuevo está en portugués.

I felt this might be the closest I’d ever get to reading The Lusiads in the original… / Me pareció que esto sería lo mejor que puedo hacer para leer Los lusiadas en su idioma original…

Eso suena muy bien pero no tengas que envidiarme: no logré aprender portugués en una sola semana (echo la culpa a los portugueses, ya que insistieron en hablar conmigo en inglés). Sin embargo, he comprado un libro en portugués, y no cualquier libro, sino la más famosa obra de literatura portuguesa: el poema épico, Los lusiadas, escrito por el poeta nacional de Portugal, Luís Vaz de Camões.

Aunque sólo en la forma de un libro de historietas.

Todos aquí pueden confirmar que el español y el portugués son suficientemente similares para ser posible leer portugués un poquito sin aprenderlo, ¿no? Por esta razón me parece que tengo posibilidad de comprender Los lusiadas cuando el texto va acompañado con MUCHAS ilustraciones. Y un poco mejor: cuando el texto va acompañado con MUCHAS ilustraciones y ya conozco el argumento.

Porque la historia que Luís de Camões narra en Los lusiadas es de la era héroica de la navegación portuguesa: el viaje de Vasco da Gama en 1497-98, cuando él se convirtió en el primer europeo en llegar a India doblando el Cabo de Buena Esperanza. Y el libro con el que fui a Portugal, Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire (Conquistadores: Como Portugal creó el primer imperio global) por Roger Crowley, se trata del mismo viaje – y un poco más. (Conquerors es el último libro de Crowley, y desgraciadamente todavía no está traducido al español, pero espero que no tardaría mucho.)

Continue reading “Los lusiadas o como Portugal se ganó un imperio”

The Lusiads or How Portugal Won an Empire

Leer esto en castellano

I went to Portugal for a week with a book and came back with two; the new one is in Portuguese.

I felt this might be the closest I’d ever get to reading The Lusiads in the original…

This sounds grandiloquent but you needn’t turn yellow with envy: I did not manage to learn Portuguese merely in one week (I blame the Portuguese who insisted on speaking to me in English). Nevertheless, I acquired a book in Portuguese, and not just any book but the most famous piece of Portuguese literature: the epic poem The Lusiads by Portugal’s national poet, Luís Vaz de Camōes.

Although only in the form of a comics book.

Any Spanish speaker will testify to the fact that if you can read Spanish, you can read Portuguese to a very decent degree. Consequently I fancy my chances of making sense of The Lusiads when accompanied by LOTS of pictures. Better still: I fancy my chances of making sense of The Lusiads when accompanied by LOTS of pictures and when I already know the plot.

Because the story Luís de Camões tells in The Lusiads is from the heroic age of Portuguese navigation: the journey of Vasco da Gama in 1497-98, when he became the first European to reach India by rounding the Cape of Good Hope. And the book I went to Portugal with, Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire by Roger Crowley, treats the same journey – and a bit more.

Continue reading “The Lusiads or How Portugal Won an Empire”

The Future in the Past (2001: A Space Odyssey)

We live in the future that we used to read about: our smartphones bear more resemblance to The Hitch-hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy than to Bell’s telephone and there are people living on a space station above our heads. When I first read about helicopters and submarines in Jules Verne at the age of twelve, they were already reality; it was then difficult to grasp that to the author all this had been a fictional future. Good for Verne. There are plenty of contrary examples: books in which the authors were so wildly off the mark that we can only wonder at what they were thinking. Science-fiction? In many cases, the word science ought to be crossed off.

But not in the case of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Continue reading “The Future in the Past (2001: A Space Odyssey)”

Five Short Novels to Read on an Aeroplane

Okay, so your work sucks and you only live for the holidays, right? Or maybe your work is the best thing ever, but even so you do go on holidays sometimes – right? So you need a book to read that’s just the right length for a short-haul flight.

(I’ll let you know my recommendations for long-haul when I’ve managed to get further than three hours’ flight.)

Continue reading “Five Short Novels to Read on an Aeroplane”

A Day’s Hiking (No One Writes to the Colonel)

Two years ago I read No One Writes to the Colonel (El coronel no tiene quien le escriba) by Gabriel García Márquez on the train en route for a day’s hiking. (It was just the right length.) Yesterday it was the first genuinely nice day of the year, so we went hiking; and I re-read No One Writes to the Colonel on the train.

I mean the first time round I thought it was brilliant and my Spanish is two years better now.

It’s BRILLIANT.

(The day’s hiking wasn’t bad either.)

There’s only one problem with No One Writes to the Colonel: I feel completely discouraged from picking up any of García Márquez’s other books ever again: there’s no way  he could have surpassed this one.

In fact, I know he didn’t think he ever did.

You might also like:Gabriel García Márquez, Minus Magical Realism

Federico García Lorca: Impresiones y paisajes

Read this in English (written in two parts)
⇒ Sketches of Spain: CastileSketches of Spain: Granada

Hay libros de los que no hay nada que escribir porque todo se ha dicho ya. Y hay otros de los que no hay nada que escribir porque lo único que puedes hacer es citarlos. Impresiones y paisajes por Federico García Lorca es uno de esos últimos.

La noche tiene brillantez mágica de sonidos desde este torreón. Si hay luna, es un marco vago de sensualidad abismática lo que invade los acordes. Si no hay luna…, es una melodía fantástica y única lo que canta el río…, pero la modulación original y sentida en que el color revela las expresiones musicales más perdidas y esfumadas, es el crepúsculo… Ya se ha estado preparando el ambiente desde que la tarde media. Las sombras han ido cubriendo la hoguera alhambrina… La vega está aplanada y silenciosa. El sol se oculta y del monte nacen cascadas infinitas de colores musicales que se precipitan aterciopeladamente sobre la ciudad y la sierra y se funde el color musical con las ondas sonoras… Todo suena a melodía, a tristeza antigua, a llanto.

Continue reading “Federico García Lorca: Impresiones y paisajes”

Two Versions of The Old Man and the Sea

Leer esto en castellano

Two Versions of the Old Man and the Sea

My teenage daughter borrowed my copy of The Old Man and the Sea and read it one afternoon. I had been about the same age when I first read it, thirty years ago. “You’ll either love it or it will bore you to tears,” I warned. “It’s that kind of book.”

“I’ve finished it,” she said later at dinner, looking a bit sheepish.

“You didn’t like it.” It wasn’t hard to divine. She knows that it’s one of my favourite books. “You didn’t click.”

“No,” she said. “It’s just about an old man who went fishing. It’s boring.”

Continue reading “Two Versions of The Old Man and the Sea”

Pride & Prejudice in a Dozen Tweets

One of the bloggers I read writes a Twitter round-up for a proper website. I usually ignore it – I mean it’s a Twitter round-up, for god’s sake! – but the other day I decided to take a look. This had three immediate effects on me:

  1. I had a fit of hysterical laughter – are these tweets for real?!
  2. I congratulated myself for never having signed up for a Twitter account – I always knew no-one possibly can have anything worthwhile to say in 160 characters, especially on a daily basis.
  3. I got inspired.

Continue reading “Pride & Prejudice in a Dozen Tweets”

They that Go Down to the Sea in Ships

A fit of September blues, accompanied by September skies. (That means grey; where I come from September skies are famous for their particularly beautiful deep blue colour.) My September blues, however, are not merely due to the fact that summer is over; my plans for rowing up the Thames à la Three Men in a Boat are over too. For reasons I don’t want to discuss here not only we didn’t succeed in following the Three Men upriver this summer, we didn’t even have a holiday. Maybe better luck next year?

So – for a while at least – this is the last post in the Upriver series. And what better way to wind up and lighten the September blues at the same time than to immerse ourselves into some books set on boats (and envy the people who get to sail on them)?

Continue reading “They that Go Down to the Sea in Ships”

The Novel Life of Britain’s Greatest Frigate Captain

For me, a good non-fiction book is not one that simply gets its facts right; it also has to read well, like a novel. (Showing my lack of sophistication here.) It helps of course if the author of the non-fiction book has a good subject to work with; and the Royal Navy in the time of the Napoleonic wars certainly makes for a good subject.

Continue reading “The Novel Life of Britain’s Greatest Frigate Captain”