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Posts Tagged ‘literature’

Victor Hugo, Man of Letters

October 16, 2013 1 comment

File:Victor Hugo by Étienne Carjat 1876 - full.jpg

What a portrait! Victor Hugo (1802-1885), the great man of letters, author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1832) and Les Miserables (1865), and champion of Republican government and the downtrodden. What a writer!    RT

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Photograph: Victor Hugo (1876); Etienne Carjat. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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What if? Palmyra and the Crisis of the Third Century

September 20, 2013 3 comments

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The Roman Crisis of the Third Century (AD 235-284) is one of the most mysterious events in world history, mainly, as far as RT can see, because it did not result in the break-up of the Roman Empire into three smaller monarchies: 1) the Gallic Empire; 2) a much reduced Roman Empire; and 3) The Palmyran Empire. This topic, RT is realizing, is far too large for single post, so he offers here this brief notice and a single question: Why was the Emperor Aurelian (in a mere five years) able to restore his broken empire? More on this subject later!   RT

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RT’s Related Posts: 1) The Great Library of Alexandria; 2) Oxyrhynchus–Trash and Treasures

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Photo: Temple of Baal, Palmyra; Author: Bernard Gagnon. WikiCmns; CC 1.0 Generic.

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The Onegin Stanza & Alexander Pushkin–a Verse Form & its Origins

September 18, 2013 Leave a comment

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RT notes with sorrow the recent shooting at the Washington Naval Yard. He hopes that the United States will find a way to finally end the long string of mass shootings that has plagued the country for decades.

It’s easy at moments like this to think that no solution to pressing problems can be found. Things seem cut and dried and the forces opposing reasonable reform stronger than those working for constructive change. Then, at least in RT’s experience, you run across a bit of information or news that makes things seem less bleak.

Take, for instance, the Onegin Stanza, invented by Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837).

Pushkin’s story itself is remarkable. Generally considered to be the greatest poet that Russia has produced (and Russian society reveres its poets), Pushkin was born into an aristocratic family, but was himself one-eighth black–a great-grandfather, Abram Petrovich Gannibal (1696–1781), was a Black African page rescued from slavery in Istanbul, educated, and raised by Peter the Great. APG went on to become the General en Chef, in charge of building forts and canals in Russia.

The great-grandson’s story is just as unusual. By the time he was a teenager, Pushkin’s literary talent was recognized, and he graduated in the first class of the prestigious Imperial Lyceum. But Pushkin’s writings acquired a political bent. The Imperial government exiled him from Moscow; during this period, he became a Freemason. The poet was active in the Greek Revolution, but upon his return to Russia was exiled, this time to his mother’s estate. He was released from exile by Czar Nicholas I, but his time in Moscow was nearly as restrictive: he was unable to publish or travel at will (in fact, Pushkin’s play, Boris Godunov, was not published in its original, uncensored form until 2007).

Pushkin was famously sensitive about his honor, and died as a result of wounds inflicted in a duel over his wife’s honor.

Pushkin’s novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, written in Onegin Stanzas, has been hugely influential in Russian literature and cultural life: an opera, a ballet, a play, and several movies are based on it. But Pushkin’s dense language has proven difficult to translate into English, and he has remained relatively unknown in the English-speaking world.

Here, then, is the form for the Onegin Stanza:  iambic tetrameter with the rhyme scheme “aBaBccDDeFFeGG”, where the lowercase letters represent feminine endings (i.e., with an additional unstressed syllable) and the uppercase representing masculine ending (i.e. stressed on the final syllable).

And a sample from Eugene Onegin:

My uncle -- high ideals inspire him;
    but when past joking he fell sick,
    he really forced one to admire him --
    and never played a shrewder trick.
    Let others learn from his example!
    But God, how deadly dull to sample
    sickroom attendance night and day
    and never stir a foot away!
    And the sly baseness, fit to throttle,
    of entertaining the half-dead:
    one smooths the pillows down in bed,
    and glumly serves the medicine bottle,
    and sighs, and asks oneself all through:
    "When will the devil come for you?"

(translator: Charles Hepburn Johnston)

Wow…    RT

RT’s Related Posts: 1) Extinctions; 2) The Novgorod Codex

Portrait: Alexander Pushkin; Painter: V.A. Tropinin. WikiCmns; CC 1.0 Public Domain Dedication.

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Just What Were the Biblical Sources? (The Bible and the Z Revolution)

June 4, 2013 1 comment

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The mysterious Elohist continues to pester RT, and so do, now that he thinks about it, the other sources for the Hebrew Bible. Just what were the sources that ended up in the Five Books of Moses?

With some help from Richard Elliot Friedman‘s Who Wrote the Bible? RT ventures the following list:

1) The Elohist Bible. The hunch that this was the first of the Biblical documents to be written has been with RT for some time. Certainly the EB was a major work, comprising several scrolls and written by a master literary artist. RT is also pretty certain that the EB was divided differently than the Five Books; for instance, he thinks that in E, Exodus/Shemoth ended somewhere between the Passover and the Crossing of the Red Sea.

2) The Yahwist Bible. Written in response to the Elohist Bible by another gifted writer, the Yahwist Bible has been reconstructed in two beautiful versions, Harold Bloom and David Rosenberg’s The Book of J and Richard Friedman’s The Hidden Book in the Bible. The major difference between the E and J bibles is that the E author represents Israelite tradition from the point of view of the Northern Kingdom (Samaria); the Yahwist author, from the perspective of Judah.

These two works, both composed, as RT supposes, in the 9th century B.C.,  represent the oldest layer of the Biblical texts. But here is where things start to get tricky: neither the E or the J bibles have survived as independent works. They were combined into a single text, the JE Bible, at about the time of the destruction of Samaria (722 B.C.). Comparing the texts, moreover, makes it clear that the person who combined the two texts had a preference for J, since the J material is preserved in a continuous account, while the E material has major gaps, most noticeably, its opening is missing. So, in fact, the JE Bible is the source for the oldest materials in the Bible, while the J and E sources were both lost at some point.

3) The JE Bible. Composed at the end of the 8th century B.C.

Hold onto your hats, folks: there is more still to come. Specifically, one more bible was written, this one after the fall of Samaria and the appearance of the JE Bible.

4) The Priestly Bible. Apparently, the priests in the Jerusalem priesthood were not happy with JE’s point of view, so one of their number wrote a corrected version, the Priestly or P Bible. Friedman assigns the composition of the PB to the reign of Hezekiah (715-686 B.C.).

Hebrew writing had lost none of its vitality: the P source includes the Creation Chant at the opening of Genesis, the great credo of monotheism and surely one of the finest passages of literature ever composed. Here, at the turn of the 7th century B.C., and perhaps during the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem, the consciousness of a single creator god emerged.

5) The Deuteronomistic History. Last of the major sources to be written, the Deuteronomist History was composed during the reign of Josiah and at the beginning of the Babylonian Exile, and tells the story of the Israelites from Moses to the time of Josiah. But things are not quite as clean and cut as they might seem: the D Historian used older materials to compose his work, some of them very old. So the books originating from his hand, that is, Deuteronomy through 2 Kings, at least in some cases represent older traditions.

Finally, the four sources were combined; Ezra the Scribe (active in 1st half of the 5th century B.C.) has been named as the individual responsible for combining the materials to produce the Five Books as we have them.

A process this elaborate, taking place over centuries, is bound to produce rival theories and tough debate. From RT’s point of view, admittedly based in his work with Gilgamesh, the writing of the Biblical materials fills in the cultural gap left after the sack of Nineveh and the abandonment of cuneiform script as the principal writing system. A new culture was being born, and that takes time.

RT

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Photo: Jacob Wrestling the Angel; Sainte-Marie-Madeleine Basilica in Vézelay. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

Oxyrhynchus–Trash and Treasures

May 18, 2013 2 comments

File:Oxyrhynchos map.gifTo begin with, Oxyrhynchus was a garbage dump in Ptolemaic Egypt. Nothing fancy here:  old tax-assessments, petitions, leases, bills, and horoscopes. Notice however, that all of these are written recordsunder the Ptolemies, Oxyrhynchus was the capital of the 19th nome of Egypt, and, as such, produced masses of administrative documents. The city reached its zenith under the Ptolemies and during early Christian times, experienced a gradual decline under the Romans and Byzantines, and was abandoned after the Arab conquest. During the town’s long life, an immense number of papyrus documents–including literature and religious texts–were thrown away at the dump.

So matters remained for a thousand years, while the extremely dry climate of the area preserved the vast horde of writing. Finally, in 1892, two young British archaeologists, Bernard Pyne Grenfell and Arthur Surridge Hunt, discovered the dump and the excavations began.

And what a treasure trove they discovered! Many thousands of manuscripts have been recovered (at the end of their first excavation season alone, Grenfell and Hunt sent 280 boxes of manuscripts to Oxford), and though literary and religious works comprise only 10% of the finds so far, these works have significantly broadened our knowledge of Biblical and extra-canonical writings. These manuscripts include: 1. (from the Septuagint), fragments from Genesis, Exodus, the Psalms, and Job; 2. (from the New Testament), fragments from four manuscripts of Matthew, fragments from the other three gospels and the Pauline letters, and pieces of the NT apocrypha. Other items discovered include the first known fragments of the Gospel of Thomas, a piece from the Gospel of Mary, possibly, fragments from the Gospel of Peter, and a fragment from the Gospel to the Hebrews (P 655).

And then there is the Greek literature and mathematics, which include: 1) plays of Menander, 2) diagrams from Euclid’s Elements, 3) a large piece from Sophocles’ Ichneutae, 4) an epitome of 7 of the 107 lost books of Livy (in Latin), and 5) a large fragment of a poem by Sappho. These finds have been so impressive, that, in fact, the archaeological site has been more-or-less continuously excavated since its discovery.

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Wow! But the best news is: the excavations continue–who knows what may turn up?

RT

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Related RT Posts: 1) The Great Library of Alexandria; 2) The Novgorod Codex.

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Map: Egypt, showing the location of Oxyrhynchus; WikiCmns; Public Domain.

The Greek Alphabets–An Independent Tradition?

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RT was feeling a little down after publishing his first installment of Gilgamesh on Lulu (all that work, and where are the millions in royalties?), so he followed his own advice for such situations and learned something new.

This is one way to think about the Greek alphabet: the alphabet, which is clearly based on the earlier Phoenician alphabet, dates to the early 8th century BC. Within a few decades, its use had spread across Greece, becoming so strongly established that it influenced the creation of other alphabets and continues in use in Greece today.

End of story, right? Nope! It turns out that the Greeks used another writing system before the current Greek alphabet, and that this system has one if not more precursors. The writing system in question is Linear B,  a syllable script that was in use from about 1450 to 1200 BC. Notably, LB was not written with pen on papyrus or parchment, but with a stylus on clay tablets–a method that originated with cuneiform. The script had about 200 characters, more or less evenly divided between syllable sounds and ideograms. It was used to record commercial transactions, and thus makes reference to the gods of the time. None of the tablets record literature (though phonetic changes between LB and its successor Greek alphabet have helped date the origins of Homer’s poetry). The language recorded in LB is archaic Greek.

Michael Ventris and John Chadwick are the individuals principally responsible for deciphering Linear B (a task completed in 1956).

A final and fateful point: the use of Linear B came to an end during the Dorian invasion of Greece (about 1000 B.C.–and which may or may not have taken place).

Wow! A ton to think about! But there’s still more.

Namely, Linear A, the precursor of Linear B. The first thing to know about LA is that it has only been found on the island of Crete. The second thing to know is that it shares many symbols with Linear B. The third thing to know is that when the deciphered values for LB symbols are used to transcribe Linear A, only a mishmash of sounds emerges. Conclusion? Linear A was not used to write a Greek language.

What language did LA record? So far, the best that can be said is that the language appears to be an isolate (though connections with Greek, Luwian, and Phoenician have been proposed).

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and what do you know… the school bell is ringing and RT’s lunch hour is over…the second installment of this post will appear shortly…   RT

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PhotoPicture showing the correspondence between sign 44 of the Phaistos disk and the wrap of the goddess; author: Philippe Plagnol. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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Wow!!! Gilgamesh Tablets 1-4 is Available on Lulu!!!

April 29, 2013 7 comments

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RT is stunned: after a morning-long struggle with his files, he is pleased and proud to announce that his book, Gilgamesh: The Ancient Epic, tablets 1-4, is now available on Lulu.com. You can reach the book order for on Lulu (www.lulu.com) by typing in the book’s title or the author’s name, Eric Quinn.

This is the first fruits of more than 12 years of work…whoa!!!

I will only add that I’m very pleased by the book’s appearance, and especially its covers, which turned out better than I had hoped. Thanks, everyone, for being so encouraging during the process of finishing the volume!   Eric

Book Cover: copyright © 2013, Eric Quinn.

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