Another Folio read from my collection – this one still in its cellophane wrapper, unopened for, what, 15 years, and what a find. Apart from the moderniste illustrations which I disliked intensely this was an amazing read. Basically it is Cicero’s speeches in court usually for the defence. The florid language and the egotistical approach are to the fore but the content is mind-boggling. Apart from the fact that the extensive notes in this issue take you right through Roman history up to the first Emperors, the speeches themselves take you right into the heart of what it was to be a Roman. I studied Latin to A Level and have always liked reading about Roman history, but this was something else. You really felt you were there in the Senate or court house listening to someone who has always been regarded as one of the greatest orators of all time. And the daily life described, and the political machinations, so like what we know ourselves. These people, apart from obvious differences, were human beings with human foibles who could be living next door to us now. What a privilege it was to read (over a period of several months) these extremely detailed accounts of what was going on in the late Republican era. Unlike modern court cases Cicero’s defences usually rested on the question Crassus apparently alway asked ‘Who stands to benefit?’, and thereafter minute dissection of character. So they were hardly objective, but that all adds to the spice. A book to lose yourself in….
Not sure I have talked about this before but this highly illustrated edition of ‘Under Milk Wood’ is a wonderful thing to have. I just love the beautiful language of Dylan and his over-fertile imagination. The nearest thing I can think of is Homer with his ‘wine-dark sea’. No-one but no-one else could have written this, and the fact that his life was, in a sense, so tragic and cut short is to be heavily regretted. Peter Blake the famous British artist spent 28 years on a labour of love drawing and painting all of the characters and imaginings from the story/poem and this is now a wonderful accompaniment to the text. It just adds an extra dimension. Having spent some time living and working in South Wales which I always remember fondly, I do find myself reading with a Welsh lilt trying to replicate Richard Burton. As if!
Now here’s an interesting book. I have never really bothered with it, thinking it to dwell in the realms of the astrological, which is not for me. However, having dipped into it I find that, far from that, it takes pains to examine the great stories of Myth in all the main cultures and religions. ‘Here, from every corner of the globe, are tales of the world’s creation, undying love, the Sun and the Moon, gods of the weather, tricksters, terrible monsters, the afterlife and the underworld, and more.’ Christopher Dell shows how many myths share common patterns, and this is the really fascinating thing about it. I found it, to be honest, quite astounding how stories in one religion are very nearly exactly the same in another. So, just as the ancient Greeks, when dead, crossed the river Styx so the Japanese crossed the river Sanzu. Or take honey. The OT is full of references to honey, suggestive of sweetness and leisure, and one of the chapters of the Koran entitled ‘The Bee’ describes it as ‘a cure for men’. In Hinduism honey is used in worship or as a sacrifice. To us the most famous example of flooding comes from the OT where Noah builds his ark to save every species in The Great Flood. In the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh Utnapishtim is advised by the God Enki to build an ark before his brother sends a great deluge. In Greek mythology, Zeus decides to flood the world too…..Prometheus however forewarns his son who prepares a chest of provisions in which he and his wife float around for 9 days. In Hindu myth the human Manu is warned of the flood by Vishnu and is able to save himself in time. One can only imagine that a lot of the Myths had a common source, and that in turn leads to lots of philosophical questions. I’ll leave those to someone else!