Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Roman’ Category

The End of July

Yet another super late post! I wish I was bit more regular and diligent but crazy work hours and super hectic weekends, have slowed the pace of reading and blogging severely! I barely got any reading done in July and did very little in terms of leisure activity besides watching the Wimbledon semi final and final round matches. Yet looking back, I must say, that it was not so bad, if I managed to watch all the semi-finals including the Men’s Singles each of which was 5+hours long! Oh! Well! Hindsight is an interesting thing!

Moving on, like I said, between work, Wimbledon and socially busy weekend, reading really took a back seat! However, if we were to claim quality and never quantity matters, then, I had a wonderful reading month, because, despite the limited number, the sheer  brilliance of the works, made the reading a truly enriching experience! My reading for the month went something like this –

I Claudius by Robert Graves

20180730_121613 (1)

There are two different ways of writing history: one is to persuade men to virtue and the other is to compel men to truth”

Final Meeting : Selected Poetry by Anna Akhmatova; Translated by Andrey Kneller

20180808_102521

Faced with this grief, the mountains bend,

The mighty river stops its flow,

But iron bolts won’t even dent,

Behind them – “the convicts’ den”

And somber deathly woe.

Some people feel the soothing breeze,

For some the sun shines red –

For us these wonders long have ceased,

We only hear the grinding keys

And soldiers’ heavy tread.

We rose as though to early mass

And crossed the capital in throngs,

More breathless than the ones who’ve passed,

The Neva’s hazy, overcast,

But hope continues with its song.

There’s the verdict… Tears burst loud,

She’s singled out, on her own,

As if her life has been ripped out,

As if she’s thrown onto the ground…

She’s staggers… stumbling… alone…

Where are the friends with whom I’ve shared

Two years of living in that hell?

What blizzards do they have to bear?

What visions in the lunar glare?

To them I’m sending this farewell

Augustus Carp, Esq. By Himself Being the Autobiography of a Really Good Man by Henry Howarth Bashford

20180728_135905 (1)

“For the first time, I was in the presence of the greatest human vice. Nor have I ever, perhaps, entirely recovered from the enormous shock of that discovery. For though I had been aware, of course, from my studies on Holy Scripture, that such things had occurred in the Middle East, and had even deduced from contemporary newspapers their occasional survival in the British Islands, I had never dreamed it possible that here, in a public park in the Xtian London of my experience, a married man could thus openly sit with his arm round a female who was not his wife.”

That is all for now folks! Like I said, not too many readings, but some very qualitative and interesting ones! Hopefully August will bring many more Reading Hours!

The Roman Emperor…

Jewel Parker Rhodes in an interview, a few years ago had highlighted one of the most most unique features of Historical Fiction. She said, “I love historical fiction because there’s a literal truth, and there’s an emotional truth, and what the fiction writer tries to create is that emotional truth.” This to me is one of the best definitions of Historical Fiction, where facts becomes woven in a narrative through an emotional thread and one of the most telling example of such genre, is I, Claudius by Robert Graves.

20180730_121613 (1)

Published in 1934, I Claudius was a significant departure in the style from the usual, writings of Robert Graves, who had already received much accolades first as a War Poet and then for his World War 1 autobiography, Goodbye to All That, all of which focused on the 20th century socio-political developments. I Claudius, went back in time to ancient Rome and gave voice, to one of the more able, albeit relatively neglected Emperors of the Julio-Claudian clan, Claudius, and tells to story of the successors of Julius Caesar, from the time of his assignation, to Claudius’s coming to power in 41 AD, after Caligula’s assignation. Taking the reader, through the lives and actions of Augustus and his ruthless wife Livia, to the profanity and yet able administration under Tiberius and finally the desecration of the Rome under Caligula, the book gives a rich insight into the intrigue and the sly diplomacy that went into keeping the power of Rome at the helm, in a way which would also ensure that the Julio-Claudian clan continued to rule the affairs of the state, in the name of the “Republic”. Claudius, a weak child with a limp, born to the Drusus, Livia’s second son from her first marriage, he is mocked for weakness and often considered dim witted because of his stutter. Shunned as a child, with the only friend and champion in form of his elder brother Germanicus and is cousin Postumus, he develops a intellectual abilities beyond the ordinary, and begins writing histories about Rome and her subjects. During all this, he  also watches from the sidelines as Augustus’s favored and presumptive heirs lose their lives or are banished, and the rise of Tiberius, the eldest son of Livia to the throne, finally followed by the base Caligula, which brings Claudius closer to the throne, surviving, treachery, tragedy and humiliation, to be finally declared an Emperor himself!

This book has often been sighted as one of the best modern classics and one of the most outstanding examples of historical fiction! I have to agree with these kinds of sentiments. Roman politics written even by the most adept authors can be difficult and despite all the best efforts, it becomes dry, despite the scandalous  conduct of many of its subjects. And yet here, Mr. Graves not only produces a fine nuanced piece of literary writing and make it so interesting, that you stay up the night to finish the book! The plot never flags, though there are repetitive actions of murder and mayhem, and herein lies the brilliance of the author to make each event interesting by some unique twist of the narrative. While, I am not very well acquainted with Roman History (on account of the dry narratives) but from my megre reading, it does seem that Mr. Graves has kept to authenticity of the actual unfolding of events as much as possible taking very little artistic licenses. In this work of historical fiction, one can easily see how Mr. Graves supplied the “emotional truth” to the “literal truth” to make this an edgy, interesting novel. Claudius is hardly a hero you would cheer for and there are times when Graves’s protagonist comes as too much of a namby-pamby, that bends as per the blowing wind! But that I think was the point, that the author was trying to showcase; that Claudius was great not because he was a standard strong and brave hero, but because he knew what his weaknesses were and knew how to use them as a strength to survive one of the most tumultuous and bloody ages of Roman Empire.  Claudius remains on the side lines for most of the narrative, observing, commenting with sly humor and with touch of distaste, but always, interesting and somehow involved that while, you know he is not the hero, you cannot fathom the events, without his presence, regardless of impact he makes or fails to make. And while you are never really cheering him on, you are nevertheless sympathetic and invested in his survival and eventual prosperity. The other ensemble is equally well drawn, especially with the portrayal of Livia, in whom we find an exceptionally talented administrator, far to capable for the times she was living and ruthless, in determining what is best for her family and for Rome. Augustus and Tiberius again portrayed very clearly, and drawn very much close to life, while holding good on their own, still pale in representation of Livia.Finally to end, one can easily say that written in an  an easy language, with minimum description and with more focus on action, the book is a great, entertaining read, that gives an interesting and absolutely, fascinating glimpse into the Roman world!

This book was my July Read for The Official 2018 TBR Challenge.

Changes in the Ancient Greek-Roman World

Now this post should have been like written centuries back, but what can I say except life, vacations, friends and finally sickness caught up and this post went lower and lower in the priority, until today, when I finally swore that I will not budge until I had written this post. Considering it took me 3 months of solid reading time to get through this book, it is of utmost important that I devote atleast one post to it!

Back in January, in a fit of complete madness, when possessed by book demons who tempt you to read all kinds of things, I agree to a read along – Metamorphoses by Ovid, with Cleo and O and couple of others. The idea was to read a book every week starting from January and finish the fifteen books by March-April. It seemed doable enough and come on, this is Ovid; in the absence of a real Classical education, this was as close to a group study/help event I was going to get to read one of the most important texts of the Roman world! There was no intention of giving up on something like this and through hail and high water, sometime exhilarating and sometime faltering, I managed to complete the book, early August.

This is an epic poem which is a compendium of all Greek and Roman legends. Each books talks about certain events that led to a metamorphoses of a God, demi-god or human into some feature of nature, tales with an intended moral epiphany. I am not getting into the details of each book, instead I leverage Wikipedia to provide an overview. For details, I would strongly recommend you visit Cleo or O’s  blog post for an excellent summary of each book! For now, Ovid divided the poem in 10 books comprising pf about 250 myths, from the time of creation of the world util the rule of Julius Ceaser. The Books can be broadly categorized as –

  • Book I – The Creation, the Ages of Mankind, the flood, Deucalion and Pyrrha, Apollo and Daphne, Io, Phaëton.
  • Book II – Phaëton (cont.), Callisto, the raven and the crow, Ocyrhoe, Mercury and Battus, the envy of Aglauros, Jupiter and Europa.
  • Book III – Cadmus, Diana and Actaeon, Semele and the birth of Bacchus, Tiresias, Narcissus and Echo, Pentheus and Bacchus.
  • Book IV – The daughters of Minyas, Pyramus and Thisbe, the Sun in love, Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, the daughters of Minyas transformed, Athamas and Ino, the transformation of Cadmus, Perseus and Andromeda.
  • Book V – Perseus’ fight in the palace of Cepheus, Minerva meets the Muses on Helicon, the rape of Proserpina, Arethusa,Triptolemus.
  • Book VI – Arachne; Niobe; the Lycian peasants; Marsyas; Pelops; Tereus, Procne, and Philomela; Boreas and Orithyia.
  • Book VII – Medea and Jason, Medea and Aeson, Medea and Pelias, Theseus, Minos, Aeacus, the plague at Aegina, the Myrmidons, Cephalus and Procris.
  • Book VIII – Scylla and Minos, the Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus, Perdix, Meleager and the Calydonian Boar, Althaea and Meleager, Achelous and the Nymphs, Philemon and Baucis, Erysichthon and his daughter.
  • Book IX – Achelous and Hercules; Hercules, Nessus, and Deianira; the death and apotheosis of Hercules; the birth of Hercules;Dryope; Iolaus and the sons of Callirhoe; Byblis; Iphis and Ianthe.
  • Book X – Orpheus and Eurydice, Cyparissus, Ganymede, Hyacinth, Pygmalion, Myrrha, Venus and Adonis, Atalanta.
  • Book XI – The death of Orpheus, Midas, the foundation and destruction of Troy, Peleus and Thetis, Daedalion, the cattle of Peleus, Ceyx and Alcyone, Aesacus.
  • Book XII – The expedition against Troy, Achilles and Cycnus, Caenis, the battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs, Nestor and Hercules, the death of Achilles.
  • Book XIII – Ajax, Ulysses, and the arms of Achilles; the Fall of Troy; Hecuba, Polyxena, and Polydorus; Memnon; the pilgrimage of Aeneas; Acis and Galatea; Scylla and Glaucus.
  • Book XIV – Scylla and Glaucus (cont.), the pilgrimage of Aeneas (cont.), the island of Circe, Picus and Canens, the triumph and apotheosis of Aeneas, Pomona and Vertumnus, legends of early Rome, the apotheosis of Romulus.
  • Book XV – Numa and the foundation of Crotone, the doctrines of Pythagoras, the death of Numa, Hippolytus, Cipus, Asclepius, the apotheosis of Julius Caesar, epilogue.

This book has inspired, poets, play-writers and painters. Its effects can be seen even in the 21st century and needless to say has many complex and layered meanings in it. Ovid creates a world which both incredibly frightening at the same time extremely interesting – like a world you are scared to explore, but cannot seem to draw away from! There is intense violence in the book; some of the most grotesque violence I have ever read were in this book – violence that defines imagination and brings in shuddering horror! Violence against women is another theme that runs through the book – they seem to be constantly chased and violated by some God or other for their beauty. Makes one wonder, why these creatures were designated Gods in the ancient world, because they seem to display very little God like behavior and you would never want to be a nymph in ancient Greece, because first the Gods chase you and rape you and then the God’s consort turns you into a tree or an animal for enticing him! Yeesh! In fact Ovid’s woman do not come out in a good light, either they are making each other’s life miserable through curses, or lusting after father/brothers. There is a certain antagonism against the women that comes through in all the 15 books.Having said that, let me re-emphasis that the Gods are no better and their deeds no very God like either – challenge them and you will fall, defy them and you will fall , ask for forgiveness, that too may be denied! They indulge in wars which sound like bar brawls and the only thing that seems to keep em’ going is to engage in some kind of sexual escapade! To me this kind of action from Gods seemed difficult to relate, especially growing up around Hindu mythologies, where Gods are Gods because of the exemplary conduct; it was difficult to wrap my head around a concept of a God with as many failings as a common mortal! It is written in meter of epic poetry, very much in the lines of The Illiad and The Odyssey, but in a significant departure to those poems, Ovid combines all kinds of genres in Metamorphoses – there is tragedy, comedy, drama, irreverent humor mocking the Gods, love poetry as well pastoral hymns! Yet while writing an epic, he subverts some of the key events which are considered of epic nature – The battle of Troy and the adventure of such heroes Achilles or initially Hercules. But then, considering the breath of his work, Ovid may have considered skipping some of the more well known events to focus on lesser known stories! He briefly touches on these subjects/heroes and nimbly and quickly moves on to other subjects! of Another unique feature of this book is the way Ovid plots the books together; in a daring leap of innovations, he plots the books through themes and yet manages a chronological timeline which propels the reader from one century to another. Though there are times, the plot seems to jump leaving certain threads hanging, yet one cannot help but appreciate the different approach to a timeline.

To end, this has not been an easy book to read! Especially towards the end, I have had to struggle to continue and the treatment of Roman myths was a let down. Also the amount of violence and the kind of personal pleasure that Ovid seemed to describe it and re-visit it disturbed me greatly! However there is no taking away that Metamorphoses is a grand adventure, a Goddish tour-de-force if you will and while I do not like the poet much, I cannot help but say, that read this book atleast once!

 

 

%d bloggers like this: