Gloss upon the Odyssey

Quote of the Week:

Everything in this book may well seem both to lovers of poetry and to classical scholars an unnecessary gloss upon the Odyssey. In one sense it is, for it is clearly unnecessary to attempt to trace the voyage of Ulysses when millions of people, for thousands of years, have been quite happy to read the Odyssey as if it was only a fable…

I do not think that anything is lost by attempting to find a skeleton – however magnificent the cupboard that hides it. I have seen coral formations disguising the old bones of ships, but I did not feel less amazed by the beauty of the coral just because I had found the timbers and iron frames which the polyps had disguised and decorated.

(Ernle Bradford: Introduction to Ulysses Found)

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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)

The Wine-Dark Sea

Quote of the Week:

“Sailing over the wine-dark sea…” (Homer: The Odyssey)
[Image public domain via Pixabay]

It was evening when we made our way back to the cove. The sun was setting fire to the headlands west of us, and the sea had become absolutely still. Not even a cat’s-paw trailed across the purple water. The sea was truly like wine to look at. The professors who had decried Homer’s adjective and invented other meanings for it, had never been sailors.

(Ernle Bradford: The Wind Off the Island)

A History of The Great Sea

In 2015 it took me an entire year to work my way through The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean by David Abulafia, a book I had been very keen to get my hands on. And it is a substantial book but that was not the reason it took me so long; after all, I only recently read The Bible in Spain, all 550 pages of it, in less than a week. So what held me up?

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Sailing Into History

There are authors who captivate you. With their choice of words, their temperament, their ideas, their life story, their way of looking at the world, their… spirit. It’s been a long time since I last had been so captivated as I’ve been this winter; and it’s a good thing that my husband doesn’t read this blog for I’m positively in love. (With a man who’s been dead for some thirty years. Ouch!)

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The Sound of the Pleasant Place

Day 4 Assignment: Bliss

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“For me… the sound of the pleasant place is in the waves of the sea. And the smell of it is damp cordage and wood, on a fair morning when the off-shore breeze just carries the scent off the land. And the sight of it is a dolphin breaking clean and shining out of a foam crest –  or the curve of a wind-washed sail, at evening, when the sea’s line shines.”
(The Journeying Moon: Sailing into History by Ernle Bradford)

Following Ulysses with Ernle Bradford

Recently I wrote about how a young Royal Navy sailor in 1941 sauntered into a Greek bar in Alexandria and came out with his head full of the Odyssey. Well, those of you who haven’t read that piece, go and read it now, but I’m willing to remind the rest who have merely forgotten who this sailor was: Ernle Bradford.

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The Pale Green Loeb Volume

Loeb Classics in Foyle’s – Greek is green, Latin is red – just like it used to be

Recently – as you might have noticed – I read the introduction to Ulysses Found by Ernle Bradford. (This sort of thing happens when you update your Amazon wish list for Christmas.) Now I’m not into the OdysseyI’m one of these people who prefer the Iliad. But I’m going to read Ulysses Found (just a subtle hint for family members in case they come passing this way), and maybe, who knows, it might lead onto greater things, like reading the Odyssey in full after all these years. Who knows, I might even end up liking it!

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Ulysses Found

Travelling leads to strange encounters. Especially if you’re committed to speak the language of your destination.

In World War II a young Royal Navy sailor by the name of Ernle Bradford sauntered into a Greek bar in Alexandria and came out brainwashed because he had been imprudent enough to say “Kalimera” to the man behind the counter. A few years ago I went to Delphi and was imprudent enough not only to say “Kalimera” but to follow it up with saying that I hoped to read Herodotus in the original someday.

All avalanches begin with a snowflake.

Chance encounters. And Ulysses found…

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Final Verdict (The Great Sea)

Last week I finally managed to finish The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean by David Abulafia. I had no time to announce this earth shattering fact (it took me nearly a full year to read this book) to the world immediately because I was too busy blogging about Herodotus at the time.

My final verdict can be expressed in two words:

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The Great Siege: Malta 1565

I’m sitting on a rooftop terrace in Valletta, the town founded by and named after Jean Parisot de la Valette, Grand Master of the Knights of St John some 500 years ago. The terrace overlooks the Grand Harbour, and the solid walls of Fort St Angelo across the water are lit up tonight. Beyond it, sprinkled with lights, the towns of Vittoriosa and Invitta, originally called Birgu and Senglea, but renamed “Victorious” and “Unconquered” by the Knights after the Turks failed to take them in 1565. I can see the marina in Dockyard Creek whose entrance the Knights closed with a huge chain during the siege. Somewhere to my left, out of sight on the tip of the peninsula that is Valletta, beyond the rooftops, stands Fort St Elmo, whose defenders sacrificed themselves so gallantly in defence of Malta.

I’m on holiday in Valletta, and I’ve just read The Great Siege: Malta 1565 by Ernle Bradford, starting it on the plane to Malta and finishing it on this terrace, opposite Fort St Angelo.

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Fort St Angelo across the Grand Harbour

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