Sunday, 25 October 2009

Apuleius; The Golden Ass

Considering that the alternative titles of this book is "The Transformations of Lucius" and, as I have already stated, my unit of study this year in classics is "Metamorphosis", then it's hardly a surprise I read this book. I happened to find a copy of it in a second-hand bookshop right at the start of the year, and since it was the first time I'd seen it in a second-hand bookshop, I picked it up. Then I later discovered that it was on the reading list for my Met. unit anyway. Perfect. I have to read a book I wanted to read, and I get to count it as work.

Obviously, because I was reading it from a metamorphic perspective, I picked up on that aspect of the writing a lot more - who appears in disguise, changes shape, who they think has changed shape, etc. And since last year I audited a unit on Magic the Greek and Roman World, I had particular interest on those parts to do with witchcraft, too.

It was interesting. Apuleius uses the event of the character Lucius being turned into an ass, and his subsequent travels to tell many stories - not just the ones Lucius is himself involved in, but also stories which he overhears in the places he stays, and from the people he travels with. He who had been a member of the upper class is now reduced to being a beast of burden for the lower classes, and as such, many of the tales reveal details of what life was like for peasants. It's witty and tongue-in-cheek for the most part, but the change in tone in the last two books threw me, and I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Perhaps Apuleius meant the nature of the earlier books to heighten the nature of the last two by their stark contrast. But for me, the absurdity and lack of seriousness in the first books simply dragged the last two down to their level, and since there is very little humorous nature in the last two, I found that rather than sounding profound they simply fell flat. So the ending, for me, was deflated and slightly baffling. Perhaps I shall toddle off and find a commentary or two, to see what other scholars have made of the ending.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Richard Buxton - Forms of Astonishment: Greeks Myths of Metamorphosis

This year my one and only taught unit in Classics is called 'Metamorphosis' and is, unsurprisingly, a unit that looks at the theme of metamorphosis in Greek (and occasionally Roman) myth and literature. It is taught by Richard Buxton. So imagine my pleasure at finding in our library, apparently undiscovered by anyone else, the presence of a book, by him, published this year, about the very subject he is lecturing on. Unfortunately, my discovery didn't stay secret for long and a few days after I had withdrawn the book, it was requested back to the library. I was about halfway through the book at that point, so I decided to finish it quickly before handing it back in.

The wonderful thing about having been taught by Richard Buxton is that, because he writes in the same style that he talks, you can hear his voice in your head narrating the text as you read it. He is a wonderful lecturer - the sort who you don't mind if he overruns by ten minutes or so, and actually, you'd be quite happy to listen to him talk for another hour anyway. His enthusiasm for his subject is intoxicating (if I were wittier I would make some passing joke about Dionysian intoxication which only other students of his would understand, but there we go), and nearly everything he says - including the frequent, but always related tangents (in fact, especially those), is highly interesting.

Anyway, on to the book. I found it an easy, interesting and informative read. at 252 pages it's another fairly short volume, but hey, if you can say all you want to say in 252 pages, why use more? Unsurprisingly the book deals with myths of metamorphosis, with a particular focus on how they are portrayed in literature and art, and how they are reacted to - are they portrayed as miraculous, astonishing and completely out-of-the-ordinary, or are they more mundane, played down, and hardly a thing to bat an eyelid at? It was informative as an intelligent and scholarly introduction to the subject, for those who have not studied myth from the point of view of metamorphosis, though whether it was ground-breaking in many of its claims I know not - I am merely and undergrad, and simply am not qualified to say.

As I was reading it I found myself wondering whether others, even more ignorant in the subject of classics than I, would find the book as easy to read as I. I tried to imagine whether they would be confused by references to myths they didn't know of (though many of the myths he references of examples are outlined briefly), and by authors they hadn't heard of (does the normal reader know who Pausanias is?). Alas, I found it very hard to put themselves in my shoes, so I have no idea how hard a normal reader would find it to understand the text, so I can only speak as an amateur classicist when I say that it was engrossing, written in a very readable style, and gently prods the reader to contemplate the ancient texts of metamorphosis from a new angle, and in a new light.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Books to Read Before I Die Challenge - 2010

The challenge, by Bibliophilebythesea may be found: here.

1. Dumas; The Count of Monte Cristo
2. The Mabinogion
3. Dostoevsky; The Idiot
4. Tolstoy; Anna Karenina
5. Saint Augustine; Confessions
6. Spenser; The Faerie Queene
7. Flaubert; Madam Bovary
8. Popper; The Poverty of Historicism
9. MacIntyre; A Short History of Ethics

10. Walcott; Omeros
11. Stendal; The Red and The Black
12. Austen; Pride and Prejudice

Freud - Civilization and its Discontents

First review: oh my.

Firstly, I am not a psychology student. I read this simply because I wanted to, rather than because I had to - and because it was cheap (I purchase most of my leisure books in second-hand charity book shops).

I have read some Freud before, but not much. I rarely find - and this was certainly the case in the later half of this particular book - that I agree with him on psychological issues. But I still find him incredibly thought-provoking: perhaps even more so precisely because I disagree with him. I end up spending a lot of time thinking about why I disagree with him, and if his proffered explanation of the origin of trait X is unsatisfactory, then what is its origin? This, for me, is always a good thing. I like to think, and so I like books that make me think.

The first few chapters of the book lurk in the grey area between philosophy and psychology (there exists such a grey area between any subject and philosophy), and though the outlook of these chapters on human happiness was pessimistic and cynical, I found myself agreeing with a lot of their content. It may be depressing to think that humans are, by their very nature, self-defeating in their quest for happiness, but his arguments for this position are quite compelling.

The book then gets gradually more psychological, but apart from the occasional tangential foot-note into the realms of anal-eroticism there is little of the "hard-core" and "controversial" psychology that Freud is famous for among the general population.

At 106 pages it make a short, thought-provoking read. So if you're looking for something that will engage and exercise your mind for a few hours, but won't make you cry in frustration trying to understand it, then you could do far worse than picking up this little book.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Read List

Being the list of books that I have read since I first started keeping track of what I read some few years ago now. Newest at top.

Douglas Adams; Life, The Universe, and Everything

Douglas Adams; The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Douglas Adams; The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Charlotte Bronte; Jane Eyre

Alcott; Little Women

Kundera; Immortality

Pratchett; Wintersmith

Pratchett; A Hat Full of Sky

Prachett; The Wee Free Men

Wladyslaw Szpilman; The Pianist

Philip Reeve; Infernal Devices

Pratchett; Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

Pratchett; Thief of Time

Samuel Butler; Erewhon

Scarlett Thomas; The End of Mr. Y

Christopher Tyerman; The Crusades: A Very Short Introduction

Anthony Hope;The Prisoner of Zenda

Stephen Crane; The Red Badge of Courage

Robert Louis Stevenson; Treasure Island

Kipling; The Jungle Book

Verne; Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Anonymous; The Book with No Name

Tom Holland; The Vampyre

Voltaire; Letters on England

Juvenal; The Sixteen Satires

Tacitus; The Agricola and the Germanicus

Radcliffe; The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne

Orwell; Why I Write

Aristophanes; Lysistrata and Other Plays

Hurlburt & Schwitzgebel; Describing Inner Experience?

Buchan; The Thirty-Nine Steps

Greek Lyric Poetry

Klaus Theweleit; Object-Choice (All You Need is Love...)

Freud; The Interpretation of Dreams

Kierkegaard; Fear and Trembling

Patrick Gardiner; Kierkegaard: A Very Short Introduction

David Malouf; Remembering Babylon

Jung; Four Archetypes: Mother, Rebirth, Spirit, Trickster

Racine; Iphigenia, Phaedra, Athaliah

Mackenzie; The Man of Feeling

Walpole; The Castle of Otranto

Longus; Daphnis and Chloe

Thomas Paine; Common Sense

Dickens; The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Maria Edgeworth; Castle Rackrent

H. Rider Haggard; Allan Quatermain

Christopher Logue; Kings

Terence; Phormio and Other Plays

Richard Lederer; The Revenge of Anguished English

Pushkin; The Queen of Spades and Other Stories

Sophocles; Electra and Other Plays

Spike Milligan; A Dustbin of Milligan

Jean-Dominique Bauby; The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly

Oscar Wilde; Lady Windermere's Fan

The Upanishads

Petronius; The Satyricon and The Fragments

Kierkegaard; The Concept of Iron with Constant Reference to Socrates

Jerome K. Jerome; Three Men in a Boat and Three Men on the Bummel

Alexander Solzhenitsyn; One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Vonnegut; Cat's Cradle

Apuleius; The Golden Ass

Richard Buxton; Forms of Astonishment: Greeks Myths of Metamorphosis

Freud; Civilization and its Discontents

Dumas; The Three Musketeers

Orwell; Decline of the English Murder

H. Rider Haggard;
King Solomon's Mines

Racine; A
ndromache, Britannicus, Berenice

The Death of King Arthur
(la Mort le Roi Artu)

The Poems

Joachim Marzahn;
The Ishtar Gate

Apollonius of Rhodes;
The Voyage of Argo

William Beckford;

Diary of a Madman and Other Stories

George Mann;
The Affinity Bridge

William Blake;

Albert Camus;
The Myth of Sisyphus

Troilus and Criseyde

The Prince

Matthew Lewis;
The Monk

Dana Arnold;
Art History: A Very Short Introduction

Dan Simmons;
The Endymion Omnibus (Endymion & The Rise of Endymion)

Jonathan Barnes (Ed);
Early Greek Philosophy

Robert E. Drennan (Ed);
The Algonquin Wits

Harpo Marx;
Harpo Speaks!

The Nibelungenlied

James R. Gaines;
Wit's End

F. Scott Fitzgerald;
The Great Gatsby

Dan Simmons;
The Hyperion Omnibus (Hyperion & The Fall of Hyperion)

William Blake;
Poems of William Blake (selected by Peter Ackroyd)

Paul Gallico; T
he Small Miracle

Paul Gallico;
The Snow Goose

Antoine De Saint-Exupéry;
The Little Prince

The Poems of Catullus

Alan Dundes (ed);
Sacred Narrative, Readings in the Theory of Myth

On the Genealogy of Morals

Julian Reade;

Goethe; F
aust (Part 2)

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro

Edmond Rostand;
Cyrano de Bergerac

Jeanette Winterson;

Robert Harris;

The Song of Roland

Jean Racine;
Britannicus, Phaedra, Athaliah

Franz Kafka;
The Metamorphosis and other stories

J. Rendel Harris;
The Origin of the Cult of Apollo

Jules Verne;
Around the World in Eighty Days

Chris Wooding;
The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray

Hermann Hesse;

Albert Camus;
The Outsider

A Tale of Two Cities

Philip Reeve;
Predator's Gold

The Homeric Hymns

Bernard Shaw;


Robert A. Segal;
Myth: A Very Short Introduction

Myths From Mesopotamia (Epic of Creation, The Flood, Epic of Gilgamesh and others)

Tom Sorell;
Descartes: A Very Short Introduction

Michael Moorcock;

Quentin Skinner;
Machiavelli: A Very Short Introduction

Bethan Stevens;
William Blake

Samuel Beckett;
Waiting for Godot

Philip Reeve;
Mortal Engines

The Complete Poems

Nick Gevers (Ed); E
xtraordinary Engines

Harper Lee;
To Kill A Mockingbird

The Library of Greek Mythology

The Pot of Gold and Other Plays (Pot of Gold, The Prisoners, The Brothers Menaechmus, The Swaggering Soldier, Pseudolus)

Joseph Melia;

George W. M. Harrison (ed);
Seneca in Performance

Faust (Part one)

Oscar Wilde;
The Importance of Being Ernest

The Birds and Other Plays (The Knights, Peace, The Birds, The Assemblywomen, Wealth)

Robert W. Chambers;
The King in Yellow and other horror stories

Stephen King;

The Theban Plays (Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus & Antigone)

Aristophanes; F
rogs and Other Plays (Wasps, Women at the Themosphoria, Frogs)

Dana Ferrin Sutton;
Seneca on the Stage

Four Tragedies and Octavia (Thyestes, Phaedra, The Trojan Women, Oedipus & Octavia)

The Trojan Women and Other Plays (Hecuba, The Trojan Women, Andromache)

Dante; The Divine Comedy

Nine Plays (Medea, The Trojan Women, Orestes, Electra, Iphigenia in Tauris, The Bacchae, Alcestis, Hippolytus, Heracles)

Jonathan Williams & Clive Cheesman (Eds & trans);
Classical Love Poetry

Anna Lydia Motto;

The Rope and Other Plays (The Ghost, A Three-Dollar Day & Amphitryo)

The Oresteia (Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers & The Eumenides)

Stillman Drake;
Galileo: A Very Short Introduction

Essays and Aphorisms

Gary Dexter;
Why not Catch-21?

Robert Harris;

The Decameron


M. R. James;
Selected Ghost Stories

Jonathan Barnes;
Coffee with Aristotle

Bertrand Russell; T
he History of Western Philosophy

John Fowles;
The Magus

Geraldine Pinch;
Egyptian Myth: A Very Short Introduction

C.C.W. Taylor;
Socrates: A Very Short Introduction

Christopher Kelly;
The Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction

Anthony Storr;
Freud: A Very Short Introduction

Giulio Leoni;
The Third Heaven Conspiracy

China Mieville;
Un Lun Dun

Michael Tanner;
Nietzsche; A Very Short Introduction

A. C. Grayling;
Russell: A Very Short Introduction

Michael Morpurgo;
The Mozart Question

W. V. Quine;
On What There Is

Prometheus Bound And Other Plays (The Suppliants, The Seven Against Thebes, The Persians)

Tad Williams;
Otherland: Sea of Silver Light

Letters from a Stoic

Bertrand Russell;
The Problems of Philosophy

Lise Myhre;

Julia Annas;
Plato: A Very Short Introduction

Theogony & Works and Days


Lao Tzu;
Tao Te Ching

Epicurus; Letter to Menoeceus

Julia Annas;
Ancient Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction

The Civil War

Peter Singer;
Marx: A Very Short Introduction

The Nature of Things

The Hippocratic Writers;
Hippocratic writings

Jonathan Barnes;
Aristotle: A Very Short Introduction

Mary Beard & John Henderson;
Classics: A Very Short Introduction

Helen Morales;
Classical Mythology: A Very Short Introduction

Tad Williams;
Mountain of Black Glass

Tad Williams;
River of Blue Fire

Michael Moorcock;
Elric of Melnibone

Tad Williams;

Stephen King;
Fire Starter

Paradise Lost

Alena Jezkova;
77 Prague Legends

J. K. Rowling;
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


Oedipus the King

Ambrose Bierce;
The Devil's Dictionary

David Gemmel;
Shield of Thunder

Stephen King & Peter Straub;
Black House

Lynn Truss;
Talk to the Hand

René Descartes;
Meditations on First Philosophy

David Gemmel;
Lord of the Silver Bow

William Blake;
The Marriage of Heaven & Hell


The Aeneid

Crime & Punishment

Margaret Atwood;
The Penelopiad

The Iliad



Stephen King; T
he Dark Tower

Stephen King; T
he Song of Susannah

Stephen King;
The Wolves of Calla

Stephen King;
Wizard And Glass

Poems and Fragments

Stephen King;
Needful Things

Stephen King;
The Waste Lands

Stephen King;
The Drawing of Three

Stephen King;
The Gunslinger

Pat Barker;
Regeneration Trilogy

William Blake;
Songs of Innocence and Experience

Sebastian Faulks;

Stephen King;
The Dark Half

Stephen King;
The Dead Zone

Stephen King;

Stephen King;
Skeleton Crew

Stephen King;
'Salem's Lot

Stephen King;
Gerald's Game

Stephen King;
Four Past Midnight

Stephen King;
Night Shift

Stephen King;
Pet Sematary

The Odyssey

Paulo Coelho;
Veronika Decides to Die


Bram Stoker;

Emily Brönte;
Wuthering Heights

Mary Shelly;

Stephen King;
The Shining


Joseph Heller; C
atch 22

Sylvia Plath;
The Bell Jar

Ken Kesey;
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Post the first (and hopefully not the last).

Today I caught myself red-handed in a bout of snobbery. I found myself raising an eyebrow about a forum thread where people were discussing and reading Wuthering Heights for the first time, and doing so because of its mention in another series of books which are quite popular at the moment. What caused my bout of snobbery was the fact that some of them were having such a hard time understanding it. One person said they were reading the Spark Notes at the end of each chapter to help them understand it. I shall explain now that the person wasn't talking about using the Spark Notes to help them understand the symbolism, themes, etc. of the book better - they were using it to help them understand the plot. 'Oh Gawd.' I thought.

A little later I came across another blogger attempting to read a group of classics for the first time. Again, she too was worrying about how hard she was going to find it to read and understand them. Instead of my previous snobbish reaction however, I was humbled by her. Here was a woman actively trying to better herself. Undertaking something she knew was going to be hard, and doing it anyway because she thought it would be worth it in the end, to be able to read and understand these classics. Who am I to mock such noble enterprises?

After all, I'm hardly any different - I'm started studying at University even though I knew it would be hard because I knew it would also be rewarding - that I would gain from it. To deride others for doing the same thing simply because I'm already at some higher standard than them is base of me.

So for my snobbery, (of which I am, rightfully, thoroughly ashamed) I decided that as some strange form of penance I should get off my sickeningly high horse and join the bloggers I had been scorning in their quest to become better-read. I may be better read than those I was inwardly sneering at, but there are others who would put me to shame with their breadth of reading.

This then, in long-winded form, is the simple premise of my blog. To read, to discuss, and to keep track of what I've read.