Seven Quasi-Religious Sayings To Annoy Your Children With

The Admonitions of St Stephen

It’s 20th of August, the day of St Stephen, the first Christian king of Hungary (ruled 997-1038). One of the things he’s famous for, in addition to the founding of the Christian state of course, is that he left behind a book titled Admonitions for his son, telling him how to do pretty much everything as a king. We don’t know what Prince Imre thought of all of this, or whether he would have followed any of the advice because he predeceased his parent but my efforts to pass on wisdom to my children invariably elicit the rolling of eyes!

Be obedient to me, my son. You are a child, descendant of rich parents, living among soft pillows, who has been caressed and brought up in all kinds of comforts; you have had a part neither in the troubles of the campaigns nor in the various attacks of the pagans in which almost my whole life has been worn away.

(St Stephen: Admonitions)

Seven Quasi-Religious Sayings To Annoy Your Children With

In the spirit of St Stephen then, here are seven quasi-religious sayings for you to annoy your children with (especially after they argued for half an hour about whose turn it was to empty recycling bin).

Quasi-religious because they're not necessarily come from religious books, although they sound as if they did...

1. Yourself, My Lord, If You Have No Servant

We start with this old Hungarian saying which is my particular favourite, mostly because I’ve never had a servant. It could have been inspired by the Bible but if it was, I never found the original text. The meaning should be obvious: if you haven’t got servants, you’ve got to do it yourself. (Even if you’re Jesus.)

I personally find it a tad more stylish than the standard English “What did your last servant die of?”. And it’s not a bad principle to live by, especially when you consider the following:

2. God Helps Those Who Help Themselves

Sounds straight out of the Bible but it isn’t – the idea comes from the Ancient Greeks, although it’s unclear via whom we inherited it. It’s generally attributed to Euripides (the play Hyppolitus) but I couldn’t find the quote.

On the other hand, this is what you do find in Aesop:

A carter was driving a wagon along a country lane, when the wheels sank down deep into a rut. The rustic driver, stupefied and aghast, stood looking at the wagon, and did nothing but utter loud cries to Hercules to come and help him. Hercules, it is said, appeared and thus addressed him: “Put your shoulders to the wheels, my man. Goad on your bullocks, and never more pray to me for help, until you have done your best to help yourself, or depend upon it you will henceforth pray in vain.”

Self-help is the best help.

(Aesop’s Fables: Hercules and the Wagoner)

3. Cleaning the Augean Stables

I don’t remember much of my mother, who died after a long illness when I was thirteen. But one of the few things I do remember was her repeatedly commenting on the state of my bedroom:

It looks like Augeas’s stable.

(Invariably followed by the somewhat despairing injunction to tidy up and pronto.)

The reference, which I had ample occasion to use with both of my own children, is from the Twelve Labours of Hercules, another Ancient Greek myth.

A reminder of the plot: Hercules, the half god, half human hero of the stories killed his wife and children in a fit of madness sent on him by Zeus’s jealous wife, Hera. As a punishment, he had to go to serve King Eurystheus who imposed on him the famous twelve labours. One of these, a task of clearly impossible proportions, was to clean the great cattle stables of King Augeas of Elis in a single day. Augeas had three thousand oxen and their stables had not been cleaned for thirty years…

Hercules solved the problem by diverting the Rivers Alphaeus and Peneus through the stables washing them clean (I often wished I could do the same with my children’s bedroom).

Encyclopaedia Britannica says there is a reference to this story in Homer’s Iliad, but for the life of me I don’t remember anything about that. On the other hand, the story has been illustrated on the temple of Zeus in Olympia:

Photo by Egisto Sani via Flickr [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]
For more details about the sculpture above click here.

4. If The Mountain Will Not Come To Mohammed, Then Mohammed Must Go To The Mountain

You would think this originates with the Koran, but no – it’s from the essays of Francis Bacon (where he got the idea from, I can’t say):

Mahomet cald the Hill to come to him. And when the Hill stood still, he was neuer a whit abashed, but said; If the Hill will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the hill.

(Francis Bacon: Of Boldness)

The meaning should be obvious – if something is not going to work, you just have to find a working alternative!

5. Never Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth

This tends to mystify people nowadays but that’s because nowadays hardly any of us buys a horse. Looking into the horse’s mouth and checking its teeth was standard procedure to make sure that the horse you were about to buy was healthy…

If I am little eloquent, what is that to you? Read someone more skilful. If I do not translate Greek to Latin properly, either read Greek, if you know the language, or if you know only Latin, do not judge a free gift as the common proverb has it: do not look at the teeth of a horse given to you.

(St Jerome: Commentary on the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians)

Even a saint gets annoyed by ungrateful people…!

6. Not Even Christ’s Tomb Was Guarded For Free

Another old Hungarian saying, this one referencing a story from the Bible, although the Hungarian phrase actually says Christ’s coffin, rather than tomb, which is of course wholly incorrect in itself but does alliterate nicely.

The Jewish priests asked the Romans to set guards on Christ’s tomb to make sure his disciples wouldn’t steal his body and then claim he had resurrected… (But since we’re talking about Christ here, this of course didn’t stop him.)

62 Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,
63 Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.
64 Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.
65 Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.
66 So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.

(Matthew 27:62-66, King James Version)

The soldiers of course wouldn’t have guarded the tomb for free; hence the saying. (Really, these soldiers did very well out of the whole affair: they also cashed in later when they were bribed to say that the body had been stolen – Matthew 29:11-15!)

7. Chanting A Prayer to Buddha Into The Horse’s Ear

The meaning of this Japanese proverb should be clear: Buddha might (or might not) hear your prayer and grant your wishes, but the horse surely won’t… In Hungary we actually say “It’s like talking to the wall” – but that wouldn’t fit into the quasi-religious category 🙂 and it’s a lot less picturesque, anyway!

What are some of your favourite sayings to quote at your children?
Links:Szent István király Intelmei (The Admonitions of St Stephen - sorry, only in Hungarian)

Lockdown Diaries: Day 57 (My Trusty Old Herodotus)

Locked Down in Budapest:

Although I’m one of those few privileged 🙂 who can actually enter Hungary at the moment because I do hold a Hungarian passport, I did not exchange the London lockdown to that of Budapest. (More’s the pity.) The video however is from Budapest, courtesy of my sister. Unfortunately, on trying to upload it, I found that unless I upgrade my free plan, I can’t – this not being the right financial moment to invest in my blogging hobby, I uploaded it instead to the blog’s FB page:

MARADJ OTTHON (STAY AT HOME)

Enjoy.

Continue reading “Lockdown Diaries: Day 57 (My Trusty Old Herodotus)”

Lockdown Diaries: Day 42 (Cherry Blossom Viewing)

Locked Down in London, Day 42: Olympics in Quarantine

The Two-Tailed Dog Party in Hungary (I did hesitate whether I should be naming political parties here but the name add spice to the story!) is going to run a quarantine olympics this month – events include:

  • Speed Disinfecting
  • Indoor Gazing Into the Distance
  • Synchronised Couch Movement
  • Pancake Making Commentary
  • Toilet-roll Tower Building

Continue reading “Lockdown Diaries: Day 42 (Cherry Blossom Viewing)”

Lockdown Diaries: Day 11 (A Martian’s Guide to Budapest)

Locked Down in London, Day 11: Hungary Loses the Plot

While here all I have to moan about is the Derbyshire police’s dislike of people in scenic spots, in Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, better known by the ordinary citizen as Viktátor, or sometimes as King Viktor, has decided that he can’t have too much emergency powers and he can’t have it too long: he’s pushing through a new bill on the extension of the already existing emergency powers – without a sunset clause.

Meanwhile Hungary’s Chief Medical Officer for Public Health advocates that people soak eggs in bleach before eating them (!) – it’s lucky that apparently you can’t get bleach at the moment.

Continue reading “Lockdown Diaries: Day 11 (A Martian’s Guide to Budapest)”

Give a Quarter of a Year to the Mixture and Beat it Until it Cheers Up

No, I haven’t gone insane (yet) due to having to stay at home: the above gem in the title comes from Google Translate. It’s a paragraph from a tarta di Santiago recipe, which I was sharing with family & friends on Facebook, as part of my Lockdown Diaries. (I have to post bilingual on Facebook for everybody to be able to understand and I was too lazy to translate an entire recipe. 🙂 )  

Continue reading “Give a Quarter of a Year to the Mixture and Beat it Until it Cheers Up”

The Moody Poets’ Gallery (Or a Melancholy Glance at Hungarian Poetry)

The Connection Between Miserable Weather & Hungarian Poetry (If Any)

So the other day it was grey and gloomy and it was also p***ing it down in a typical London fashion. Moreover it was a Sunday afternoon, and you would expect better from a Sunday afternoon in March, even in London.

In any case, the weather was miserable, I was miserable, and I felt like wallowing in some miserable Hungarian poetry.

Not at all a difficult thing to do, that: misery and poetry goes hand in hand in Hungary, and although we do actually also have some cheerful poems you’re not going to get any of those today.

Before we dive in at the deep end, a word of warning: Hungarian is an obscure language and not a lot of her poetry has been translated into English. (And what's been translated leaves you holding your head - in dispair.) The source of today's miserable poetry is a single bilingual anthology, going by the title of The Lost Rider. It's about as representative as a single anthology can ever expected to be. 

(And some of the translations are, well, dire.)

Continue reading “The Moody Poets’ Gallery (Or a Melancholy Glance at Hungarian Poetry)”

Hungary in Ten Books

In a few hours time I’ll be taking a late night flight to Budapest; by the time you’re reading this I might have even arrived. This latest visit home prompted me to write a long overdue book list for you. 🙂

The Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest in winter fog. Photo by Noval Goya via Flickr.

One good way to get to know a people is by reading their literature.  Unfortunately, in the case of the Hungarians this is not easy as the language is obscure and difficult (and no, it’s bloody not related to Polish, or Russian, or German!¹) and not a lot of the country’s literature has been translated into English, let alone into other languages.

So what follows here is not any kind of representative list of Hungarian literature – it is, nevertheless, a list of ten good books which were all translated into English. If you ever decide to visit Hungary, you could do much worse than reading one of them on the flight there. 🙂

Continue reading “Hungary in Ten Books”

How to Live like a Local in Budapest (Summer Edition)

The Expat Goes Home

The trouble with being an expat is that you end up being a stranger to your own hometown. In your absence things move on; after a few years you being to feel alienated. The post How to Live like a Local in Budapest two years ago was born of the experience of visiting my own city with the eyes of a tourist: I was trying to show off the attractions – especially the unique ones – to my children. It was a wintery experience of Budapest, however, so today, you’re going to get the summer edition. If it’ll inspire you to visit one of the most lovable and liveable cities in Europe, good. 🙂

The Széchenyi Chain Bridge spanning the Danube, Budapest. Photo by Anon. via Pixabay.


Continue reading “How to Live like a Local in Budapest (Summer Edition)”

Truth Does Not Depend on Geography (La verdad no depende de la geografía)

Mikes György (better known by the English version of his name, George Mikes) was a Hungarian journalist who moved to England during the 1930s where he married an Englishwoman and lived until his death in 1987. In 1946 he published a humorous book about his experiences as a foreigner in England – a book which betrays as much about Hungarian idiosyncrasies as about English ones! The book was so successful that it was followed by two sequels. And many of his observations of English culture still holds true today.

Mikes György (mejor conocido por la versión inglesa de su nombre, George Mikes) fue un periodista húngaro, quien se mudó a Inglaterra en los años 1930, donde se casó con una inglesa y vivió hasta su muerte en 1987. En 1946 publicó un libro gracioso de sus experiencias como extranjero en Inglaterra – un libro que te revela  tanto idiosincracias húngaras como inglesas. El libro tenía tanto éxito que Mikes escribió dos secuelas. Y muchas de sus observaciones de la cultura inglesa siguen ser verdaderas.

Quote of the Week / Cita de la semana:

Some years ago I spent a lot of time with a young lady who was very proud and conscious of being English. Once she asked me – to my great surprise – whether I would marry her. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I will not. My mother would never agree to my marrying a foreigner.’ She looked at me a little surprised and irritated, and retorted: ‘I, a foreigner? What a silly thing to say. I am English. You are the foreigner. And your mother too.’ I did not give in. ‘In Budapest, too?’ I asked her. ‘Everywhere,’ she declared with determination. “Truth does not depend on geography. What is true in England is also true in Hungary and in North Borneo and Venezuela and everywhere.’

(George Mikes: Preface to How To Be an Alien)


Hace unos años he pasado mucho tiempo en la compañía de una señorita joven, quien era muy orgullosa y consciente de ser inglesa. Una vez me había preguntado – para mi grande sorpresa – si me casaría con ella. «No», respondí, «mi madre nunca estaría de acuerdo de que me caso con una mujer extranjera». Me miró con un poco de sorpresa y irritación, y  replicó: «¡¿Yo, una extranjera? Qué tontería hablas! Yo soy inglesa. Eres tú quien es un extranjero. Y tu madre, también.» Yo no me di por vencido. «¿Incluso en Budapest?» la pregunté. «En cualquier lugar» me declaró. «La verdad no depende de la geografía. Lo que es verdad en Inglaterra es también verdad en Hungría o en el norte de Borneo y en Venezuela y en todas partes del mundo.»

(George Mikes: Prólogo a Como ser un extranjero)

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)”

Quote of the Week: The Blaze of Summer

Photo by Joerg-Design [public domain via Pixabay]

On the other side of the closed blinds, in the scorched, withered garden, summer ignited a last blaze like an arsonist setting the fields on fire in senseless fury before making his escape.

(Sándor Márai: Embers)


A csukott redőnyök mögött, az aszalt, pörkölt és elszáradt kertben utolsó dühével lobogott a nyár, mint egy gyújtogató, aki esztelen dühében felgyújtja a határt, mielőtt világgá megy.

(Márai Sándor: A gyertyák csonkig égnek)

 

Face to Face with My Ancestors (The Scythians in the British Museum)

I went to see the Scythian exhibition in the British Museum on Friday night and I came face to face with a Scythian warrior from over 2000 years ago.

Was this what my great-grandfather 50 times removed looked like?

Continue reading “Face to Face with My Ancestors (The Scythians in the British Museum)”

A Book with a History

The book is green with golden letters, cloth bound. Sunlight faded the spine into autumnal yellow so that you can no longer make out the title and the author very well. When you open it, the yellowed pages rustle, feeling slightly stiff to the fingers. The title page is followed by the picture of the author printed on smooth, glossy paper that contrasts with the coarser pages that follow it. I turn the pages and think: they don’t make books like this anymore.

And then there’s the way it smells. The smell of decades which lingers on  your fingers even after you put the book down.

Continue reading “A Book with a History”

Dazzling Doors (The Hungarian Parliament)

Recently I went on a visit to Hungary to spend time with family and catch up with old friends… and to introduce Young Friend of the Elephants (who caught the photography bug from me) to some of the more prestigious buildings of Budapest. In the course of which we took a copious amount of pictures, most of which proved to be a blurry failure when downloaded to the computer – but of that, more in another post…

Because today I’m contenting myself with nominating some dazzling doors from the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest (the few that came out sharp!) to Norm’s weekly Doors challenge.

Enjoy.

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How to Live like a Local in Budapest

I just came home from home. The experience was slightly unnerving in both directions (as usual). To begin with, there was the inevitable confusion of languages: while at home, I tended to do it all wrong. I spoke Hungarian to Young Friend of the Elephants and English to my father, not to mention when I creatively mixed the two languages to the changing room attendant in the thermal baths. To end with, back home there was the immigration officer at Heathrow who asked cunning questions to find out if I was trafficking my child into the country to be some sort of a domestic slave. (She’s washing up after dinner right now but don’t tell that to the border police.)

Continue reading “How to Live like a Local in Budapest”

God’s Chosen People?

The other day, reading a history of Spain by Juan Eslava Galán, I came across the following paragraph:

Spain had become the defender of the honour of God. Theologians and thinkers (not so many of these latter) became convinced that Spain and God were united in a pact. God promoted Spain to the rank of the chosen people, protected her and granted her riches and power (the Americas) in exchange for which Spain acted as his armed arm on Earth, champion of the true faith against the error of the Protestants and the Turks.

España se había erigido en defensora del honor de Dios. Teólogos y pensadores (de estos hubo menos) llegaron al convencimiento de que España y Dios estaban unidos por un pacto. Dios la había promocionado al rango de pueblo elegido, la protegía y le otorgaba riquezas y poder (las Américas) a cambio de que ella ejerciese como su brazo armado en la Tierra, paladín de la fe verdadera contra el error de protestantes y turcos.

This notion of the pact with God and the chosen people put me strongly in mind of the Hun-Hungarian legends which I read as a child.

Continue reading “God’s Chosen People?”

Exit

FullSizeRender.jpg
Through the tube barriers on Fatal Friday

If you and I sat down to have a cup of coffee right now… well, to begin with, I’d be drinking lemon tea. And despite of all the interesting books that you think we could or should be talking about, chances are we’d end up talking about politics and football.

???

(Yeah, I know. It pretends to be a book blog.)

But we had a referendum last week and the UK decided to leave the EU. Simultaneously, we reached the knockout stage of the European Championship…

Continue reading “Exit”