Friday, December 7, 2012

November 2012 Books

My foray into WWII continues with Jeff Shaara's excellent historical fiction series.

The Rising Tide: A Novel of World War II (#1) by Jeff Shaara
Published: 2006
Rating: 5
Goodreads

This book focuses on the North African conflict of the Allied forces under General Dwight D. Eisenhower against the formidable German general Erwin Rommel, nicknamed The Desert Fox.  Other larger-than-life generals who make their mark in this conflict are General George Patton (US) and General Bernard Montgomery (British).  From North Africa, the war goes to Sicily and then into Italy.


The Steel Wave: A Novel of World War II (#2) by Jeff Shaara
Published: 2008
Rating: 5
Goodreads

This book covers the planning and execution of Operation Overlord or the D-Day cross-channel invasion up to the Battle of The Bulge.  While perhaps common knowledge to many, I did not know that part of the success of D-Day was the German's acceptance of an elaborately constructed ruse - Patton's command of a fake army intending to invade Calais.  I also did not know that horrific weather threatened to postpone the invasion and that it was up to Eisenhower to make the final determination whether or not to proceed.  Once the green light was given, he wrote and carried in his pocket, a very short speech taking full responsibility if the invasion had failed.  Thank God he never had to deliver it.  I couldn't read fast enough.

No Less Than Victory: A Novel of World War II (#3) by Jeff Shaara
Published: 2009
Rating: 5
Goodreads

The book begins with Hitler's last counter-offensive which took the Allied forces by surprise and became the infamous Battle of the Bulge. It ends with his suicide, the surrender of Germany and the disclosure of the Nazi's "final solution" to the Jewish problem.  Another riveting book.

Over Veteran's Day, a number of military movies were being shown on TV.  My husband and I watched George C. Scott in his iconic role as Patton.

Nothing was the Same by Kay Redfield Jamison
Published: 2009
Rating: 4
Goodreads

I picked this up from the library and once started, I read within a couple of days.   What I found the most interesting was her clear articulation of the difference between grief and clinical depression.  I wrote down many quotes for further reflection and perhaps a post on Josh's blog.  I may need to purchase this book for my library.



The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings #1) by J. R. R. Tolkien
Published: 1954
Rating: 5
Goodreads

I love the LOTR trilogy movies by Peter Jackson, have been to New Zealand and seen some of the landscape that was filmed in the movies but have never read the books.  I did try several years ago but got hopelessly bored and stopped.

I am not sure what is different now - maybe my reading of classics over the past couple of years has heightened the appreciation of good prose.  After reading and thoroughly enjoying The Hobbit, it was time to try The Fellowship of the Ring again.  I loved it!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

October 2012 Books

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett (The Century Trilogy #1)
Published: 2010
Rating: 5
Goodreads

LOVED IT!  This well researched historical novel focuses on the events leading up to WWI or the Great War, the war itself, the Bolshevik revolution and the woman's suffrage movement. These monumental and world-changing events are told through the interrelated lives of five families from the US, Wales, Russia, Germany and England.

I had my ipad nearby to check facts and read more about certain events.  Having never been interested in history, I find myself  wanting to learn more. 

Winter of the World by Ken Follett (The Century Trilogy #2)
Published: 2012
Rating: 5
Goodreads

LOVED IT as much as the first.  This book covers the brief interlude between the two World Wars and WWII.  Once again, I could not put it down.  After finishing, I watched the HBO series Band of Brothers (loved it!) and read the book.

Historical fiction is my new favorite genre.  I am currently reading Jeff Shaara's The Rising Tide which covers the North African conflict in WWII.  I know absolutely nothing about this and again, finding it fascinating.  My husband says I need to watch the movie Patton with George C Scott which is set in this time period.



Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose
Published: 1992
Rating: 5
Goodreads

This book chronicles the amazing and heroic journey of the men from Easy Company, the 506th regiment of the 101st Airborne from enlistment to the grueling training which few survived; to the drop on D-Day into enemy territory, to the gallant fighting in key battles such as the Battle of the Bulge to the taking of Hitler's Eagle' Nest towards the end of the war.

I loved the HBO series and plan to watch HBO's The Pacific to learn about the fight against the Japanese. 


Moments of Being: A Collection of Autobiographical Writing by Virginia Woolf  edited by Jeanne Schulkind
Published: 1976
Rating: 4
Goodreads

I have started a collection of Virginia Woolf's writings and am thinking of doing a study of her life and works using Hermione Lee's critically acclaimed biography as the guide to reading her diary, essays, short stories and novels in chronological order.  I think it would be a fascinating study of a most unique and brilliant literary mind. 

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Published: 1937
Rating: 5
Goodreads

I read this in anticipation of the movie from Peter Jackson that is coming out in December.  A quick read which felt like a reunion with old friends from the Lord of the Rings trilogy (meaning movies as I have yet to read the books): Bilbo and The Ring, Gollum, Gandalf and Elrond of Rivendell.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

September 2012 Books

King Lear by William Shakespeare (No Fear Shakespeare version)
Published: 1608
Rating: 4
Goodreads

This play is about a dysfunctional family headed by an old king who prefers flattery to truth and so is blinded from seeing the loyal people in his life, daughter Cordelia and nobleman Kent.  He rashly disinherits Cordelia and divides the kingdom between his other daughters, Regan and Goneril, both consumed with greed and ambition which breeds jealousy, rage, cruelty, violence and sheer evil.  They remind me of the horrible, cold, unfeeling Lady Macbeth.

Read full post

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Published: 1911
Rating: 5
Goodreads

I have been meaning to read this book for quite a while and for some reason, on a night when I felt particularly ornery and crochety, I began and LOVED IT.

Swept away from the first sentence - "When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen" - I did not close my iPad until finished.

I found Burnett's writing extremely economical.  The chapters are not very long and yet after finishing chapter one, we learn that Mary, who lives in India, is a most disagreeable, ugly, spoiled child: unloved and unwanted by her parents who leave her care to servants whom she orders around and bullies at will.  Then a cholera epidemic leaves her orphaned and abandoned.

The child is sent to her uncle's home in the wild moors of Yorkshire and we see her slowly transform into a curious, open and caring child.   Other flawed characters enter the story and when Burnett adds in a "talking" robin, an abandoned secret garden and a mysterious cry in the middle of the night, a.k.a Jane Eyre, I was hooked.

Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides by Aeschylus.  Translated by Richmond Lattimore
Published: 458 BC
Rating: 4
Goodreads

Agamemnon is the first play in Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy and tells of Agamemnon's less than triumphant return home from the Trojan War and his subsequent demise at the hand of his wife, Clytaemestra and her lover, Aegisthus who is his cousin.

The Greek tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides) often used their work to expound on the characters that had their source in Homer's epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey.  This trilogy is a perfect example.

Read full post of Agamemnon.

In the second play, The Libation Bearers, the setting is several years after the gruesome regicide of Agamemnon.  Of the three children born to Agamemnon and Clytaemestra, only Electra is at the palace.  Iphigenia had been sacrificed to appease the gods at the start of the Trojan War and Orestes, her brother was sent away by Clytaemestra when she and Aegisthus had become lovers.  Key questions to be answered by the end of the trilogy are:
  • How does Thyestes' curse on the house of Atreus play out? 
  • Does it get resolved?  If so, how?
  • What are the consequences?

In the last play of the trilogy, The Eumenides, Orestes goes to Apollo's temple in Delphi to beg relief from the Furies for after all, Apollo himself told Orestes to avenge his father's murder.  The Furies, goaded by Clytaemestra's ghost and their own belief that matricide must be punished regardless of the circumstances, refuse to back down.

Apollo says that all should go to Athena's temple in Athens and appeal to her wise judgement.  She does not feel qualified so brings together a jury of 12 Athenian citizens to hear the case.
I will pick the finest of my citizens, and come back.  They shall swear to make no judgement that is not just, and make clear where in this action the truth lies (487-489).
Long story short, the jury is divided, Athena casts the deciding vote in favor of Orestes and placates the disgruntled Furies by renaming them and providing a new, enlightened, humane purpose.  They will be called The Eumenides or Kindly Ones and will help Athena uphold law, order and justice.  The need for personal revenge is over.

Audiocourse: Part 3 - Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition - Middle Ages by Professor Thomas Noble
Rating - 3

Part 4 - Neoclassic and 18th Century Literature by Professor Susan Heinzelman
Rating - 3

See this post for bibliography


The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton
Published: 1930
Rating: 4
Goodreads
Post on Josh's blog

I came across this excellent reference book via my daughter, who had taken a class in Greek tragedies while in college.  I have read Hamilton's classic book, Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes and reference both books while working my way through the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.  A list of chapters will give a feel of all the information contained in this rather short but meaty book.  She has also written The Roman Way which I may have to get.

  • East and West
  • Mind and Spirit
  • The Way of the East and the West in Art
  • The Greek Way of Writing
  • Pindar, The Last Greek Aristocrat
  • The Athenians as Plato Saw Them
  • Aristophanes and the Old Comedy
  • Herodotus, The First Sight-seer
  • Thucydides, The Thing That Hath Been is That Which Shall Be
  • Xenophon, The Ordinary Athenian Gentleman
  • The Idea of Tragedy
  • Aeschylus, The First Dramatist
  • Sophocles, Quintessence of the Greek
  • Euripides, The Modern Mind
  • The Religion of the Greeks
  • The Way of the Greeks
  • The Way of the Modern World

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Published: 1977
Rating: 4
Goodreads

A quick, enjoyable read once I was able to suspend a good amount of disbelief that a child (6 - 9 years old) could think, act and command a battle as if a mature adult.  I could swallow more if Ender was an adolescent like Katniss and Peeta in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy.

That said, I LOVED the ending.  A very big, satisfying twist that I did not see coming but made perfect sense.

The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Published: 1888
Rating: 4
Goodreads

A sweet Cinderella story, the protagonist Sara Crewe is as different to Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden as can be.  Rather than bullying her French maid the way Mary surely would have done, Sara is sweet, polite, gentle and charming.  She reminds me of Anne in L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series with her sunny disposition; optimistic outlook; thoughtful, intelligent, and honest conversation; and most of all, her big imagination.

Like Anne, Sara sees the best in people.  She is warm and caring to those less fortunate and even when orphaned, penniless and starving, she gives food away to a beggar-girl who is more hungry than herself.  The antagonist, Miss Minchin, is an evil villain - a thoroughly cruel and heartless woman who has no business running a boarding school for girls.

While I enjoyed the story, the characters are flat, meaning they do not change or surprise.  Despite the loss of family and fortune, Sara remains a sweet girl and Miss Minchin is unrepentant to the end.  In contrast, the characters in The Secret Garden are round and therefore more interesting, so TSG is the preferred book between the two.

My favorite quote:

Despite her calm, gentle manner, even bookish Sara could get annoyed when her reading was interrupted.
Never did she find anything so difficult as to keep herself from losing her temper when she was suddenly disturbed while absorbed in a book.  People who are fond of books know the feeling of irritation which sweeps over them at such a moment.  The temptation to be unreasonable and snappish is one not easy to manage.
Gilgamesh: A New English Version by Stephen Mitchell
Rating: 4
Goodreads



Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Libation Bearers by Aeschylus


The Libation Bearers by Aeschylus.  Translated by Richmond Lattimore
Published: 458 BC
Rating: 4


In the second play, The Libation Bearers, the setting is several years after the gruesome regicide of Agamemnon.  Aegisthis and Clytaemestra are king and queen of Argos.  Of the three children born to Agamemnon and Clytaemestra, only Electra is at the palace.  Iphigenia had been sacrificed to appease the gods at the start of the Trojan War and Orestes, her brother was sent away by Clytaemestra when she and Aegisthus had become lovers.  Key questions to be answered by the end of the trilogy are:
  • How does Thyestes' curse on the house of Atreus play out? 
  • Does it get resolved?  If so, how?
  • What are the consequences?
At the start of the play, Electra and some slave women are at Agamemnon's tomb, pouring out libations at the request of Clytaemestra, who had a nightmare of giving birth to a snake that suckled at her breast, drawing both milk and blood.   Electra has been reduced to a slave-like status herself and prays fervently for the return of Orestes so they can avenge their father's death.

Unbeknownst to her, he is there, listening to her prayer.   They are joyously reunited and plot their revenge.  After the dreadful deeds are done, both king and queen are dead.  Justice for Agamemnon's death has been served but Vengeance continues.  This is the problem with revenge killings; it never stops.

Memorable quotes:

Chorus at Agamemnon's tomb - this reminds me of the dead King Hamlet in Shakespeare's Hamlet:
And they who read the dream meanings
and spoke under guarantee of God
told how under earth
dead men held a grudge still
and smoldered at their murderers (39-41).
Electra and Orestes work themselves up to the conviction needed to kill mother and step-father:
For we are bloody like the wolf
and savage born from the savage mother (Electra: 421-422). 
Warstrength shall collide with warstrength; right with right (Orestes: 461). 
I turn snake to kill her (Orestes: 550).
Powerful metaphor give by the chorus before Orestes goes to the palace:
Right's anvil stands staunch on the ground
and the smith, Destiny, hammers out the sword.
Delayed in glory, pensive from
the murk, Vengeance brings home at last
a child, to wipe out the stain of blood shed long ago (646-651).
But there is no peace for Orestes for the Furies have come in full force to avenge matricide (the killing of one's mother).  The descriptions are horrifying:
Women who serve this house, they come like gorgons, they
wear robes of black, and they are wreathed in a tangle of snakes....
how they grow and multiply,
repulsive for the blood drops of their dripping eyes (1048-1050 and 1057-1058).
The chorus ends on a cliffhanger:
Where is the end?
Where shall the fury of fate
be stilled to sleep, be done with? (1075-1076).

The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton



The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton
Published: 1930
Rating: 4

I came across this excellent reference book via my daughter, who had taken a class in Greek tragedies while in college.  I have read Hamilton's classic book, Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes and reference both books while working my way through the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.  A list of chapters will give a feel of all the information contained in this rather short but meaty book.  She has also written The Roman Way which I may have to get.

  • East and West
  • Mind and Spirit
  • The Way of the East and the West in Art
  • The Greek Way of Writing
  • Pindar, The Last Greek Aristocrat
  • The Athenians as Plato Saw Them
  • Aristophanes and the Old Comedy
  • Herodotus, The First Sight-seer
  • Thucydides, The Thing That Hath Been is That Which Shall Be
  • Xenophon, The Ordinary Athenian Gentleman
  • The Idea of Tragedy
  • Aeschylus, The First Dramatist
  • Sophocles, Quintessence of the Greek
  • Euripides, The Modern Mind
  • The Religion of the Greeks
  • The Way of the Greeks
  • The Way of the Modern World

Friday, September 14, 2012

Agamemnon by Aeschylus

Agamemnon by Aeschylus.  Translated by Richmond Lattimore
Published: 458 BC
Rating: 4
Goodreads

The first play in Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy, this tragedy tells of Agamemnon's less than triumphant return home from the Trojan War and his subsequent demise at the hand of his wife, Clytaemestra and her lover, Aegisthus who is his cousin.

The Greek tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides) often used their work to expound on the characters that had their source in Homer's epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey.  This trilogy is a perfect example.

Long story short, the house of Atreus (father of Agamemnon and Menelaus) had been cursed by his brother, Aegisthus' father.  Really icky story that involves seduction, jealous rage, unforgiveness, infanticide and cannibalism.

It is Menelaus' wife, Helen who was abducted (or went willingly) to Troy which started the Trojan War.  Agamemnon led the expedition to retrieve Helen, but faced obstacles from the onset.  The entire fleet was held at port due to weather and when Agamemnon was told he needed to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigeneia, to appease the goddess Artemis' wrath, he did it, albeit reluctantly.  Clytaemestra never forgot nor forgave and nursed her bitterness through ten long years of war.

The themes in this play are big: the sacrifices of war and price paid by all; the affects of war on the home which can lead to a domestic-type warfare and the love of a child that feeds a mother's revenge so big that nothing short of a bloody death can satiate.

I am a huge Lord of the Rings movie fan and was fascinated to read about the beacons in Agamemnon which were used to signal the fall of Troy. This is how Clytaemestra and the people of Argos knew to prepare for Agamemnon's homecoming.  I wonder if this was the source of Tolkien's beacons of Gondor.

Favorite quotes:

This quote tells of the steep price of two brother's pride to get one woman back - thousands dead, widowed and fatherless and whole cities sacked.
The god of war, money changers
of dead bodies,
held the balance of his spear in the fighting,
and from the corpse-fires at Ilium
sent to the dearest the dust
heavy and bitter with tears shed
packing smooth the urns with
ashes that once were men.
I have put down two translations of the same passage - Clytaemestra's speech after the bloody deed - to show that a reader may prefer one translation to another.

Richmond Lattimore's translation:
Thus he went down, and the life struggled out of him;
and as he died he spattered me with the dark red
and violent driven rain of bitter savored blood
to make me glad, as garden stand among the showers
of God in glory at the birth time of the buds... 
Were it religion to pour wine above the slain,
this man deserved, more than deserved; such sacrament.
He filled our cup with evil things unspeakable
and now himself come home has drunk it to the dregs... 
That man is Agamemnon,
My husband; he is dead; the work of this right hand
that struck in strength of righteousness.  And that is that. 

Robert Fagles' translation:
So he goes down, and the life is bursting out of him -
great sprays of blood, and the murderous shower
wounds me, dyes me black and I, I revel
like the Earth when the spring rains come down,
the blessed gift of gods, and the new green spear
splits the sheath and rips to birth in glory... 
And if I pour upon his body the libation
it deserves, what wine could match my words?
It is right and more than right.  He flooded
the vessel of our proud house with misery,
with the vintage of the curse and now
he drains the dregs.  My lord is home at last... 
Here is Agamemnon, my husband made a corpse
by this right hand - a masterpiece of Justice.
Done is done.
In this instance, I prefer the Fagles' translation as it is more dramatic and powerful.  This teaches me that word choice can make a big difference.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Secret Garden and The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Published: 1911
Rating: 5

I have been meaning to read this book for quite a while and for some reason, on a night when I felt particularly ornery and crochety, I began and LOVED IT.

Swept away from the first sentence - "When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen" - I did not close my iPad until finished.

I found Burnett's writing extremely economical.  The chapters are not very long and yet after finishing chapter one, we learn that Mary, who lives in India, is a most disagreeable, ugly, spoiled child: unloved and unwanted by her parents who leave her care to servants whom she orders around and bullies at will.  Then a cholera epidemic leaves her orphaned and abandoned.

The child is sent to her uncle's home in the wild moors of Yorkshire and we see her slowly transform into a curious, open and caring child.   Other flawed characters enter the story and when Burnett adds in a "talking" robin, an abandoned secret garden and a mysterious cry in the middle of the night, a.k.a Jane Eyre, I was hooked.



The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Published: 1888
Rating: 4

A sweet Cinderella story, the protagonist Sara Crewe is as different to Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden as can be.  Rather than bullying her French maid the way Mary surely would have done, Sara is sweet, polite, gentle and charming.  She reminds me of Anne in L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series with her sunny disposition; optimistic outlook; thoughtful, intelligent, and honest conversation; and most of all, her big imagination.

Like Anne, Sara sees the best in people.  She is warm and caring to those less fortunate and even when orphaned, penniless and starving, she gives food away to a beggar-girl who is more hungry than herself.  The antagonist, Miss Minchin, is an evil villain - a thoroughly cruel and heartless woman who has no business running a boarding school for girls.

While I enjoyed the story, the characters are flat, meaning they do not change or surprise.  Despite the loss of family and fortune, Sara remains a sweet girl and Miss Minchin is unrepentant to the end.  In contrast, the characters in The Secret Garden are round and therefore more interesting, so TSG is the preferred book between the two.

My favorite quote:

Despite her calm, gentle manner, even bookish Sara could get annoyed when her reading was interrupted.
Never did she find anything so difficult as to keep herself from losing her temper when she was suddenly disturbed while absorbed in a book.  People who are fond of books know the feeling of irritation which sweeps over them at such a moment.  The temptation to be unreasonable and snappish is one not easy to manage.

Monday, September 3, 2012

King Lear by Shakespeare

King Lear by William Shakespeare (No Fear Shakespeare version)
Published: 1608
Rating: 4
Goodreads

This play is about a dysfunctional family headed by an old king who prefers flattery to truth and so is blinded from seeing the loyal people in his life, daughter Cordelia and nobleman Kent.  He rashly disinherits Cordelia and divides the kingdom between his other daughters, Regan and Goneril, both consumed with greed and ambition which breeds jealousy, rage, cruelty, violence and sheer evil.  They remind me of the horrible, cold, unfeeling Lady Macbeth.

In a parallel story line, the Earl of Gloucester also turns against the loyal child, Edgar, in favor of the manipulative bastard, Edmund whose conniving and theatrics remind me of Iago in Othello.  Both fathers suffer tremendously from trusting the wrong child(ten).  The mutilation of Gloucester is one of the most gory, intense scenes I have read thus far.  And similar to Hamlet, dead bodies litter the stage by the end of the play.

One reviewer on Goodreads made some comparisons between King Lear and The Oedipus Trilogy (Oedipus the King, Antigone and Oedipus at Colonus) by Sophocles.  I agree.  It is so gratifying to see connections between great works of literature.

  • Edgar leading blind Gloucester - Antigone leading blind Oedipus
  • Siblings fight for overall rule of the kingdom with disastrous consequences
  • Dutiful daughter - Cordelia and Antigone 
My favorite quotes:

Cordelia is being asked by King Lear to speak her love for him, as her sister's flattering tongues have done.  She feels that true love and honor is shown by actions and so says:  "I cannot heave my heart into my mouth" (1.1.90-91).

A most intense verbal thrashing given by a disguised Kent to Oswald, Goneril's steward who gives aid in her conspiracies: 

Oswald:  What dost thou know me for? 

Kent:  A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats, a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound-filth, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking knave; a whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service; and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the son and heir of a mongrel birth; one whom I will beat into clamorous whining if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition (2.2.12-21).   Wow, Kent, what do you really think?

In my reading, I make note of sentences that sing.  A disguised Edgar is giving his father a made-up description of himself:  Wine I loved deeply, dice dearly, and in woman outparamoured the Turk.  False of heart, light of ear, bloody of hand - hog in sloth, fox in stealth, wolf in greediness, dog in madness, lion in prey (3.4.83-86).


Saturday, August 25, 2012

August 2012 Books

I am on vacation and finding lots of time to read.  Have also gone to several bookstores and so have added to my already mountainous TBR pile. 

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
Published: 2010
Rating: 5
Goodreads

Reading Fitzgerald's concise history of the Roman Empire in The Aeneid led me to download a sample of this book in my iPad.  Then found an autographed copy while browsing through the Wellesley Bookstore while on vacation in New England.

I loved it.  The book reads more like historical fiction than a dry biography.  While reading, I did keep wishing for a timeline so in the end, I made my own in the back of the book.  Also, about 60 pages in, I went back and wrote key events at the top of each page which helped me follow the narrative.  Without getting bogged down, Schiff gives enough historical, cultural and political background to support the main character: Queen Cleopatra.

She was born in 69 BC, the 2nd of five children in the Ptolemy dynasty and motherless at twelve.  She was well-educated, articulate, intelligent, witty and most importantly, a survivor. Being a Ptolemy was a hazardous occupation; none of her four siblings survived past early adulthood.

Cleopatra was queen at eighteen and following Egyptian tradition, was married to each of her two younger brothers.  She was the lover of two of the most important Roman rulers of her time: Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.  She ruled 22 tumultuous years and was dead by suicide at age 39.

This would be a most challenging biography to write as the only "original" sources are from Roman male historians writing decades afterwards.  In the absence of fact, a legend arose - with a little help from Shakespeare, Hollywood and of course, Elizabeth Taylor.  My daughter and I watched the 4+ hour movie; it was pretty good.  My husband tells me that a movie is coming out based on Schiff's book with Angelina Jolie in the lead role - I will definitely want to see it.

Schiff's writing is very descriptive with adjectives galore.  I wonder if she had a lexicon specifically for this project.   

In these excerpts from the introduction, we learn about Cleopatra:
A capable, clear-eyed sovereign, she knew how to build a fleet, suppress an insurrection, control a currency, alleviate a famine....she nonetheless survives as a wanton temptress, not the last time a genuinely powerful woman has been transmuted into a shamelessly seductive one....We do not know if Cleopatra loved either Antony or Caesar, but we do know that she got each to do her bidding....It is not difficult to understand why Caesar became history, Cleopatra a legend.
I like how Schiff gives a modern context to Cleopatra's world.

Comparing Alexandria, Egypt to Paris, France:
Altogether it was a mood-altering city of extreme sensuality ad high intellectualism, the Paris of the ancient world; superior in its ways, splendid in its luxuries, the place to go to spend your fortune, write your poetry, find (or forget) a romance, restore your health, reinvent yourself, or regroup after having conquered vast swaths of Italy, Spain, and Greece over the course of a Herculean decade.
On Egyptian bureaucracy:
It was Cleopatra's role to tax the people, the people's role to fill her coffers....The Ptolemaic system has been compared to that of Soviet Russia; it stands among the most closely controlled economies in history.
 On her entrance by royal barge to meet Mark Antony in Tarsus:
In the annals of indelible entrances - the wooden horse into Troy; Christ into Jerusalem; Benjamin Franklin into Philadelphia; Henry IV, Charles Lindbergh, Charles de Gaulle, into Paris; Howard Carter into King Tut's tomb; the Beatles onto Ed Sullivan's stage - Cleopatra alone lifts off the page in iridescent color, amid inexhaustible, expensive clouds of incense, a sensational, simultaneous assault on every sense.
In the last chapter are fitting descriptions of the incomparable Queen:
She was a dutiful, father-loving daughter, a patriot and protector, an early nationalist, a symbol of courage, a wise ruler with nerves of steel, a master at self-preservation....In the end she was a mistress of herself, astute, spirited, inconceivably rich, pampered yet ambitious.
Schiff won the Pulitzer Prize for Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) which I started to read a while ago but put down out of disinterest.  I'll have to try again as I do like her writing. 


On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Published: 1957
Rating: 3
Goodreads

I started this as an audiobook on a business trip to Virginia Beach and got bored half-way through.  I really didn't care about the characters, Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise or what happened on their crazy cross-country trips filled with drugs, drinking, partying, shoplifting, hitch-hiking, sex, etc.

Despite all that, I did like the writing.  It is very descriptive and I would do well to study Kerouac's sentences - short, long and very long.   My favorite quotes:
On the horizon was the moon, she fattened, she grew huge and rusty, she mellowed and rolled, till the morning star contended and dews began to blow in our windows - and still we rolled.

Lying on top of the car with my face to the black sky was like lying in a closed trunk on a summer night.  For the first time in my life the weather was not something that touched me, that caressed me, froze or sweated me, but became me.  The atmosphere and I became the same.  Soft infinitesimal showers of microscopic bugs fanned down on my face as I slept, and they were extremely pleasant and soothing.  The sky was starless, utterly unseen and heavy.  I could lie there all night long with my face exposed to the heavens, and it would do me no more harm than a velvet drape drawn over me.  The dead bugs mingled with my blood; the live mosquitoes exchanged further portions; I began to tingle all over and to smell of the rank, hot and rotten jungle, all over from hair and face to feet and toes.  
A movie is coming out soon, from the movie trailer, it looks pretty good.


Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
Published: 1623
Rating: 4
Goodreads

Shakespeare begins this tragedy with unrest amongst key Roman Senate members over Julius Caesar's increasing power and control over Rome exemplified in this lofty speech:

"I could be well moved if I were as you,
If I could pray to move, prayers would move me,
But I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true-fixed and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament."
 
Many feared this was the end of the Republic and the beginning of a dreaded monarchy which they vehemently opposed for various reasons: envy, fear, loss of power, etc.  Only Brutus' reason for joining the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar was honorable and noble as he says later to the crowd after the horrible deed was done:
If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of Caesar's, to him I say that Brutus' love to Caesar was no less than his.  If that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer: not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.
The crowd is fickle, first siding with Brutus, then with Mark Antony against Brutus.  A civil war ensues and the avengers of Caesar's death, Octavius, Caesar's heir, Mark Antony and Lepidus are ultimately victorious over Brutus/Cassius in the Battle at Philippi.  

The play is very dramatic; I would like to see it performed on stage.

horoscopes for the dead by Billy Collins
Published: 2011
Rating: 5
Goodreads

This was the second of two books purchased at the Wellesley bookstore.  I  bought it because of the provocative title.  A Google search reveals that Collins was the nation's Poet Laureate from 2001 - 2003 and served as the Poet Laureate of New York State from 2004 - 2006.  Who knew that states have their own poet laureates?

I liked nearly all the poems in this collection; they are refreshingly accessible.  He writes about everyday life using everyday language, albeit in surprising, witty and whimsical ways.  Here is an example of the shortest poem in the collection.  I wrote "funny" at the top of the page.

Feedback

The woman who wrote from Phoenix
after my reading there

to tell me they were all still talking about it

just wrote again
to tell me that they had stopped.

His other collections are now on my wish list:
  • Ballistics
  • The Trouble With Poetry
  • Nine Horses
  • Sailing Alone Around the Room
  • Picnic, Lightning
  • The Art of Drowning
  • Questions About Angels
  • The Apple That Astonished Paris
He also edited an anthology, Poetry 180, poems that are meant to be read daily in high schools.  This site has all the poems. 

Two poems are on Josh's blog: Grave and Horoscopes for the Dead


 Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare
Published: 1623
Rating: 4
Goodreads

Shakespeare's Cleopatra is the beautiful, manipulative, power-hungry seductress who has Mark Antony in her power and will do anything to keep him there. 

Makes for great drama but does nothing to show what an intelligent, capable ruler she really was.


Introspections: American Poets on One of Their Own Poems edited by Robert Pack and Jay Parini
Published: 1997
Rating: 4
Goodreads







A Feast For Crows by George R. R. Martin (#4 A Song of Ice and Fire Series)
Published: 2005
Rating: 4
Goodreads
Author's web site

*No spoilers in this review.
Before going on vacation, I downloaded A Feast for Crows into my iPad, refreshed myself (via Wikipedia) on the plot and characters from the third book, A Storm of Swords, which I read last year, and dove right back into the amazing world created by GRRM.

This fourth book A Feast for Crows, and the next book A Dance with Dragons, both pick up the action after A Storm of Swords.   While writing the fourth book, Martin realized that he needed to split the story into two books, but not in the conventional sense where one book follows the other, but rather by geography.  Therefore the action in both books run parallel to one another for a period of time.

This worked out great for me for when I was about one-third through Feast, I downloaded Dance into my iPad and picked up the story from the point of view of all the other characters.   I continued until some of the characters in Feast showed up in Dance.  At this point, I had to go back and finish Feast because according the Martin, Dance is a longer book because it covers a longer time period.  "In the latter half of this volume, you will notice certain of the viewpoint characters from A Feast for Crows popping up again.  And that means just what you think it means: the narrative has moved past the time frame of Feast and the two streams have once again rejoined with each other."

What a rich, layered, intricate and interesting world Martin has created.  He is a master at description so my reader's senses have no problem seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting his world - amazing.  

I loved both books but have given a higher rating to Dance because it followed some of my favorite characters: Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister.

A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin (#5 A Song of Ice and Fire series)
Published: 2011
Rating: 5
Goodreads
Author's web site

Other things to share....
Upon perusing his web site, I've stumbled upon GRRM's "Not A Blog" blog - the posts are interesting and there are a number of YouTube videos of recent interviews - the guy can talk! 

I also found this fantastic food blog, Inn At The Crossroads, which features recipes/pictures inspired by the food in the book.  The bloggers have published a cookbook in which the foreword is from none other than GRRM.   I want to try Umma's Olive Loaf.  

in The Complete Plays of Sophocles translated by Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb
Bantam Classics: 1982
Goodread


Oedipus at Colonus 
Originally published: 401BC
Rating: 5

Oedipus is now a blind beggar, exiled from Thebes, wandering with his two faithful daughters: Antigone and Ismene.  In the meantime, there is a power struggle between the two brothers, Polyneices and Eteocles who alternately serve as kings with Creon as regent.  Eteocles does not give up the throne when his time is up so Polyneices declares war.

The oracle says that whomever has possession of Oedipus' grave will win the war.  Theseus, King of Athens grants Oedipus stay and backs him up when Creon tries to kidnap the girls.  Polyneices comes to beg his father to join his cause.  Oedipus' rebuke to his firstborn:
Villain, when you had the scepter and the throne which your brother now has in Thebes you drove me, your own father, into exile, and made me citiless, and made me wear this garb which you now weep to see when you have come to the same stress of misery as I.  The time for tears is past…..Now these girls preserve me, these who are men, not women, in true service.  But you are aliens and no sons of mine. 
He then curses the sons so they will kill one another.   Polyneices asks the girls to not leave him unburied, which ties directly into Antigone.

In the end, Oedipus is redeemed, dying amidst divine approval.

Trachinian Women 

Originally published: 420 BC
Rating: 4

Tragic story of the death of Heracles (unknowingly) by his wife, Deianeira.  Long ago, while she was being carried by a centaur for hire, Nessus, across deep waters while accompanying Heracles, Nessus touched her inappropriately and when she cried out, Heracles killed him with an arrow.  But before death, Nessus said that if she took the blood around the wound, it would act as a "charm for the soul of Heracles, so that he shall never look upon any woman to love her more than you."

As the play opens, Deianeira is concerned. Heracles has sacked the city of Oechalia and is sending slave women home, one of which is the young, beautiful Iole.

Age old problem - men wanting younger women.

Deianeira:  For I see that the flower of her age is blossoming while mine is fading; and the eyes of men love to cull the bloom of youth, but they turn aside from the old.  This, then, is my fear - lest Heracles, in name my spouse, should be the younger's mate.

She applies Nessus' blood to a robe which is sent to Heracles.  He puts it on and is poisoned, suffering in extreme pain.

Hyllus accuses his mother of deliberating poisoning his father which drives her to take her life.  So now Hyllus is without father and mother.   Chorus:  Rash indeed is the man who reckons on the morrow or on days beyond it, for tomorrow is not until today is safely past. 

Heracles wants Hyllus to kill him fire on a pyre and then marry Iole.  In the end as Heracles is taken off to be burned, Hyllus says these haunting words:

Lift him, men!  And grant me full forgiveness for this, but mark the great cruelty of the gods in what is being done.  They beget children, they are hailed as fathers, and yet they can look upon such sufferings.  
No man foresees the future; but the present is fraught with mourning for us, and with shame for the powers above, and verily with anguish beyond compare for him who endures this doom.
Philoctetes 
Originally published 409 BC
Rating: 5

Philoctetes was bitten by a snake while en route to Troy and tried the patience of his shipmate with his anguished cries and foul-smelling wound.  Odysseus elected to abandon him to a deserted island where for 10 years, he survives by Heracles' bow and nurses a deep hatred toward Odysseus. 

In the meantime, the Greeks are in a long war with Troy, either side unable to win.  The oracle says that  Troy can only be taken with the help of Philoctetes and Heracles' bow.   Odysseus and Neoptolemus, Achilles' son must fetch them both. 

Odysseus' plan is for Neoptolemus to trick Philoctetes in surrendering the bow.   He is the consummate liar, politician, con artist for to him, the ends justify the means. 

N:  You think it no shame then to speak falsehoods?
O:  No, if the falsehood brings deliverance.

Neoptolemus tricks Philoctetes to giving him the bow but seized with guilt, reveals all and receives this rebuke: You fire, you utter monster, you hateful masterpiece of subtle villainy - how have you dealt with me, how have you deceived me!

Neoptolemus returns the bow (to Odysseus' horror) but rebukes Philoctetes for not helping himself by coming to Troy.  

N: You suffer this sore plague by a heaven-sent doom, because you drew near Chryse's watcher, the serpent, secret warder of her home, that guards her roofless sanctuary.  Know that relief from this grievous sickness can never be your portion, so long as the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west, until you come of your own free will to the plains of Troy, where you shall meet with the sons of Ascleplus, our comrades, and shall be eased of this malady and, with this bow's aid and mine, shall achieve the capture of the Ilian towers. 

In the end, Heracles appears, admonishing Philoctetes to go to Troy, which he does. 

As the intro states, this is a play about 1) the individual vs his role in society (Philoctetes) and 2) the change from adolescent idealism (Neoptolemus) to responsible citizenship (Odysseus). 


Audiocourse: Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition Part 3 - Middle Ages by Professor Thomas Noble

See this post for bibliography

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Challenge: "Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition"

Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition by Professors Elizabeth Vandiver, James A. W. Heffernan, Thomas F. X. Noble, Ronald B. Herzman  and Susan Sage Heinzelman.

Audiocourse by the Teaching Company
Rating: 5 so far!

It has been my recent practice to listen to audio courses while driving in the car.  I found this particular course, made up of 7 parts and 84 lectures at our local library and am really enjoying it.  Who knew that ancient literature could be so interesting?  I am sure it is due to the style and delivery of Professor Vandiver - she makes the material accessible which motivates me to want to read the original text.

Just as I've made my own challenge to read through the bibliography of another excellent audio course, The English Novel, I would like to do the same with this course.  Now I REALLY need to win the lottery so I can quit my job and stay home and read!

Part I: Near Eastern and Mediterranean Foundations - listened in February 2012
  • Aeschylus I and II: The Complete Greek Tragedies by Aeschylus ed by David Grene and Richmond Lattimore.
  • Euripides I - V: The Complete Greek Tragedies by Euripides ed David Grene and Richmond Lattimore.
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh translated by Andrew George.
  • The Illiad by Homer translated by Richmond Lattimore - read March 2012
  • The Odyssey by Homer translated by Richmond Lattimore - read April 2012
  • Greek Lyric: An Anthology in Translation by Andrew W. Miller.  Includes works by Alcaeus, Archilochus, Anacreon, Sappho and Pindar.  Prof. V says this is "readable and accurate". 
  • The Complete Plays of Sophocles translated by Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb.  Ajax (read Feb 2012), Electra (read March 2012), Oedipus the King, Antigone, Trachinian Women, Philoctetes, Oedipus at Colonus. Finished in August 2012
    Part II:  Literature of the Classical World - finished listening in March 2012
    • The Aeneid by Virgil translated by Robert Fitzgerald (1984) - read July 2012
    • Metamorphoses by Ovid translated by Charles Martin (1999)
    • The Golden Ass by Apuleius translated by P.G Walsh (1999)
    • Confessions by Augustine translated by R.S. Pine-Coffin (1961)
    Part III: Middle Ages - finished listening in August 2012
    • Beowulf A new version translation by Seamus Heaney (2001)
    • La Chason de Roland (Song of Roland) student edition by Gerald J. Brault (1984)
    • The Poem of the Cid translated by Rita Hamilton and Janet Perry. Introduction by Ian Michael. Harmondsworth Press (1984).
    • Tristan & Isolt by Gottfried Von Strassburg. Translated by A.T. Hatto Penguin (1960).
    • Romance of the Rose by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean du Meun.  Translated by Frances Horgan.  Oxford University Press (1994)
    • The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri.  Verse translation by John Ciardi (1961) or 3 volume with commentary by Mark Musa (Penguin Classics).
    • The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio translated by Guido Waldman.  Oxford Univ. Press (1993)
    • Sir Galwain and the Green Knight translated by Helen Cooper. Oxford Univ. Press (1998)
    • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer translated by David Wright.  Oxford Univ. Press (1986)
    Part IV: The Renaissance - September 2012
    • The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine De Pizan. Translation by Early Jeffry Richards. Persia Books, 1982.
    • The Praise of Folly by Erasmus.  Translated by John Wilson.  University Michigan Press, 1965.
    • Utopia by Thomas More.  Translated by Paul Tuner.  Penguin, 1965.
    • Dr. Fausus & Other Plays by Christopher Marlowe. Oxford Univ. Press, 1998
    • Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt, 2004.
    • Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes.  Penguin Classic
    • Paradise Lost by Milton John.  Edited by Merrit Hughes, Odyssey Press, 1962.
    Part V: Neoclassic and 18th Century Literature - September 2012 
    • Blake's Poetry and Designs by William Blake.  Mary Lynn Johnson and John E Grant, Norton, 1979.
    • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.  Edited by Michael Shinagel, Norton, 1994.
    • Faust Part I - by Johan Wolfgang von Goethe.  Transl. by Martin Greenberg, Yale Univ. Press, 1992.
    • Faust Part II - by Johan Wolfgang von Goethe.  Transl. by David Luke, Oxford Univ. Press, 1994.
    • The Major Works by Samuel Johnson.  Ed by Daniel Greene, Oxford Univ. Press, 2000.
    • Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
    • Life of Johnson by James Boswell.  Everyman's Library 1993.

    Monday, July 30, 2012

    July 2012 Books

    July is turning out to be a month of memoirs and classics.....

    The Los Angeles Diaries: A Memoir by James Brown
    Published: 2003
    Rating: 4
    Goodreads

    A gritty, unflinching and searing memoir by writer James Brown of his dysfunctional family; the suicides of his only siblings, an older brother Barry and older sister Marilyn; and his own intense addiction to drugs and alcohol.

    The prose of Brown's heartbreaking story is strong, clear and cutting as he describes unspeakable sorrows.  But there is humor as well.  The account of the show-down between himself and Daisy, his wife's pot-bellied pig, is hilarious.

    A quick but unforgettable read.

    The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life by Ann Patchett
    Published: 2011
    Rating: 5
    Goodreads

    This enjoyable 62 page ibook was read in one night.  Patchett comes across as a refreshingly folksy, down-to-earth, self-depreciating and humble author; despite winning the prestigious 2002 Orange Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner award for Bel Canto.  I have yet to read her novels such as Run, The Magician's Assistant and new novel, State of Wonder; however, I did read her poignant memoir, Truth and Beauty, which recounts her friendship with poet and writer Lucy Grealy, author of Autobiography of a Face.  

    Words of wisdom from her own writing life:
    I would say that a deep, early love of poetry should be mandatory for all writers.  A close examination of language did me nothing but good. 
    Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art, you must master the craft.  If you want to write, practice writing. 
    Over the years I've come to realize that I write the book I want to read, the one I can't find anywhere.
    What I like about the job of being a novelist, and at the same time what I find so exhausting about it, is that it's the closest thing to being God that you're ever going to get.  All the decisions are yours.  You decide when the sun comes up.  You decide who gets to fall in love and who gets hit by a car.  You have to make all the leaves and all the trees and then sew the leaves onto the trees.  You make the entire world. 

    Othello by William Shakespeare
    Published: 1622
    Rating: 4
    Goodreads

    Named for the unsuspecting and gullible hero Othello, Shakespeare's play is really about Iago; a most sinister, manipulative, back-stabbing, devious villain.

    Read full post.



    Audiocourse:  The Aeneid of Virgil by Professor Elizabeth Vandiver
    Rating:5
    Great Course link

    Loved it - see this post.



    A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
    Published: 1964
    Rating: 4
    Goodreads

    Hemingway has been on my list of "to read" authors for a long time.  I've always looked for this book during library sales or at used bookstores with no luck.  So when it was on a carousel titled "Living in Paris" at my local library, I snatched it up.  It is a quick and interesting read about a literary expat's life in Paris after WWI.

    Read full post.

    Oedipus the King in The Complete Plays of Sophocles trans. by Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb
    Originally published: 429 BC
    Bantam Classic Edition: 1982
    Rating: 4
    Goodreads

    I agree completely with this synopsis in the introduction by Moses Hades: "Oedipus is a masterful play; but what gives it conviction and force is that plot and characterization combine in mutual support to produce the overwhelming tragic power which is the essence of the drama.  The construction is flawless.  Each new episode flows naturally out of what has gone before, and each is made plausible by the character of its participants."

    Read full post.

    Antigone in The Complete Plays of Sophocles trans. by Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb
    Published: 442 BC
    Bantam Classic Edition: 1982
    Rating: 4
    Goodreads

    Antigone is a tragedy whereby two people acting on their convictions; Creon, King of Thebes and Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, clash - with devastating consequences.

    The king refuses to grant one of her brothers a proper burial saying, "Polyneices....leave him unburied, a corpse for birds and dogs to eat, a ghastly sight of shame."   Antigone solicits the help of her sister to bury their brother but Ismene will not defy the King's decree: "Nay, we must remember, first, that we were born women who should not strive with men; next that we are ruled of the stronger, so that we must obey in these things, and in things still harder."

    Antigone's heroic response: "Be what you will, I will bury him: well for me to die in doing so.  I shall rest, a loved one whom I have loved, sinless in my crime; for I owe a longer allegiance to the dead than to the living, for in that world I shall abide forever."

    By the end of the tragedy Creon is devastated by three needless suicides; prompting this warning from the chorus:
    Wisdom is the supreme part of happiness, and reverence for the gods must be inviolate.  Great words of prideful men are ever punished with great blows, and, in old age, teach the chastened to be wise. 

    The Aeneid by Virgil - translated by Robert Fitzgerald
    Published: 19 BC
    Rating: 5
    Goodreads

    Reading The Iliad and The Odyssey of Homer and The Aeneid by Virgil has been a fascinating education in ancient Greek and Roman culture and mythology.

    Read full post

    Sunday, July 29, 2012

    The Aeneid by Virgil

    Audiocourse:  The Aeneid of Virgil by Professor Elizabeth Vandiver
    Rating:5
    Great Course link

    I LOVE her lectures.  She has a way of making ancient epic poems such as Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey and Virgil's The Aeneid  accessible to someone like myself, who has absolutely no background in ancient history or literature.

    I checked this out from my local library for a recent business trip to Virginia Beach.  The 4-hour drive flew by as I listened to Professor Vandiver's overview of Roman history before and during the time that Virgil was writing this epic.  She also explains the reason for The Aeneid; it gave the Romans their own mythology and explanation of the founding of Rome and the Roman people, which Virgil ties to the ancient Greek story of the Trojan War, of which they were very familiar.

    Interestingly, this masterpiece was almost lost.  On this deathbed, Virgil asked for his almost complete epic to be burned.   Fortuitously, Augustus forbade it.  Vandiver says she gets "a chill up her spine" every time she thinks of how close we came to never having The Aeneid, one of the most influential pieces of literature in all of Western civilization.

    I have just started Robert Fitzgerald's translation of The Aeneid and am hooked. In particular, the account of the sack of Troy in Book II, told from Aeneas' point of view, is haunting.



    The Aeneid by Virgil - translated by Robert Fitzgerald
    Published: 19 BC
    Rating: 5
    Goodreads

    Reading The Iliad and The Odyssey of Homer and The Aeneid by Virgil has been a fascinating education in ancient Greek and Roman culture and mythology.

    Virgil was commissioned by Augustus to write a historical mythology describing the founding of the Roman people.  He does so by taking a secondary character in The Iliad, Aeneas, whose opaque destiny is within these short lines:
    His fate is to escape to ensure that the great line of Dardanus may not unseeded perish from the world.  Zeus has turned against the family of Priam.  Therefore Aeneas and his sons, and theirs, will be lords over the Trojans born hereafter (The Iliad, Book XX).
    At the end of Book VIII of The Aeneid, Aeneas receives armor crafted by Vulcan (Hephaestus), who did the same for Achilles in The Iliad. . His shield depicts the future history of Rome: twin boys with a mother wolf (Romulus and Remus, descendants of Aeneas who founded the city of Rome) and the Battle of Actium, the site where Augustus Caesar defeats Antony and Cleopatra, to name a few.
    All these images on Vulcan's shield,
    His mother's gift, were wonders to Aeneas.
    Knowing nothing of the events themselves,
    He felt joy in their pictures, taking up
    Upon his shoulder all the destined acts
    And fame of his descendants. 
    I love this image of Aeneas hoisting up his magnificent shield and in doing so, literally taking Rome's fate, future and fame on his shoulders.  The definition of a true hero!

    The Aeneid is divided into twelve books: the first six are like The Odyssey; the story of Aeneas' wanderings and adventures after the sack of Troy and the second six are like The Iliad; an accounting of the war between the Aeneas and Trojans against the Latins of Italy.

     In Book II, Aeneas tells of the Greek's successful ruse to enter the city (infamous Trojan horse) and the subsequent sack of his beloved city.   
    Grief everywhere,
    Everywhere terror, and all shapes of death....
    For the first time that night, inhuman shuddering
    Took me, head to foot.
    Just like Homer, the war scenes from Virgil are graphic and gory:
    Turnus spoke and rose to full height, sword in air,
    Then cleft the man's brow square between the temples
    Cutting his head in two - a dreadful gash
    Between the cheeks all beardless.  Earth resounded
    Quivering at the great shock of his weight
    As he went tumbling down in all his armor,
    Drenched with blood and brains, in equal halves
    His head hung this and that way from his shoulders (Book IX).
    Virgil's use of simile is also reminiscent of Homer.  This is one of my favorites:
    ...As a wild bull at bay
    will give a fearsome bellow and whet his horn
    To fury on a tree-trunk, striking blows
    Against the wind, kicking up spurts of sand
    In prelude to the fight.  Likewise, meanwhile,
    Aeneas, fierce in his maternal armor,
    Whetted his edge for war....(Book XII).
    My understanding of the three major epics by Homer and Virgil has been greatly enhanced by listening to Professor Vandiver's audiocourses produced by the Teaching Company.  I would highly recommend them.

    I would like to know more about Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen whose relationships with both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony changed history so have started Stacy Schiff's biography.  I also plan to read Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra.