It’s time for another book post. February was a better month for reading in many ways. It was also a month of classical reading. I never considered myself the kind of person that liked this particular genre. I blame this prejudice partly on my own ignorance, and partly on me having only encountered arrogant teachers and pupils at secondary school who felt superior because of this field of knowledge. This kind of attitude gives me an irrational dislike that I find hard to shake off. Many years later, having encountered lots of really cool people in the field (I’m starting to think it had more to do with my secondary school than anything else) and tried my hand at one of the epics I have in fact been able to shake the feeling off. Now I find myself in the unlikely position of actually taking a course on classical literature…and lo and behold…I’m actually enjoying it! Who would have thought it right?
The Aeneid – Virgil
The Aeneid was the first classical epic I read and my first encounter with classical literature since a long time. This was little over a year ago, and I had to reread it for my classical literature course. So far this is my favourite of all the classical reads I had to do. I read an English translation, and, as most of the writings at the time, it is written in poetry. For me it was particularly interesting to read it in the light of other epics I read before, such as Beowulf and Paradise Lost.
I liked this book. I know a lot of classical literature fans prefer the Greek epics, but I enjoyed this epic a lot. Unlike Homer, of whom we know absolutely nothing, a lot more is know about Virgil. This adds a layer to reading the epic as it is chock full of propaganda about emperor Augustus. Apart from the propaganda motif, Virgil modelled it on the two best known Greek epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, thought interestingly he reversed the order (first half Odyssey, second half Iliad).
The Odyssey – Homer
Well, what can I say? This is most likely the most famous of epics. Even if you have not read the actual Odyssey you are most likely familiar with a lot of the characters. It builds on the events that happened in the Iliad, a book I have not read yet. I keep hearing that, whereas the Odyssey has a complex narrative and characters, the Iliad is a lot more superficial, so I’m not really motivated at present.
I liked the narrative, a lot happens, especially in the first half of the books, which keeps the pace in the novel. Many of the features of an epic were virtually modelled after this book, so it was fun reading it from the master’s hand. Interesting motive in the epic is that it does not so much care whether Odysseus is actually telling the truth about all his adventures, but how he tells is, whether he is convincing enough. A theme that still rings home in a modern sense to some extend. Reading this from a modern perspective is trying at times, especially when it comes to Odysseus’ attitude towards women.
De Leeuw van Vlaanderen (of: de Slag der Gulden Sporen ) – Hendrik Conscience
The Lion of Flanders, or: the Battle of the Gilded Spurs
This novel is a Dutch historical Classic. It was written by Flemish writer Hendrik Consience in 1838. The book is about the medieval Flemish-France war and highly romanticises this war. It is written from a Flemish perspective and glorifies the Flemish share in the war and is critical of the French. Therefore this is a highly coloured vision of the war. It is considered a classic read in Belgium and in many schools this is a mandatory read. I am slightly ashamed to say that I had not heard of the novel before. Perhaps this has a lot to do with my focus on English literature, as I hardly read any Dutch novels anymore, as well as the novel’s dated publication. I’m not sure the novel is actually still in publication, but because of it’s status as a classic, many households have the novel on the shelves so I had no problems with getting my hands on a second hand edition.
As for the novel I was quite surprised with how easy it read. I breezed trough it. I had expected old fashioned language and a slow paced novel. Well the old fashioned language was there, but not as dominant as I expected it to be. All in all I was pleasantly surprised by the novel and I’ve already recommended it to some friend who are into historical novels.
|Flemish knights before the Battle of the Golden Spurs|
Not for Profit. Why Democracy Needs the Humanities – Martha C Nussbaum
Ah, nothing like a non-fiction book defending the humanities to keep up spirits about the world.
I read this for a course on the place of the humanities in society. Nussbaum defends the importance of the humanities by making some (to me) valid points, but she does take a long time to make those points. She takes a whole chapter to say things that could be said in one or two pages. This makes it a long-winded, repetitive and at time dairy read.
Towards the end of the books she makes some statements about the place of philosophy in the Netherlands. Given that I grew up and live in the Netherlands, I am able to test these statements. She raves about the place of philosophy in Dutch society and she gives some examples as testimony to this prominent place. Unfortunately these statements are doubtful at best and plainly not true at worse. We had an in-class discussion about these statements and none of my fellow students, nor my teacher recognized Nussbaum’s statements. This makes me wonder what her base for these statements was and whether she actually researched the state of affairs here. It also makes me doubtful of some of the other examples she mentions in the book.