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text 2020-03-25 01:37
Reading progress update: I've read 221 out of 311 pages.
Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations - Mary Beard

Is it really the case, for example, that Greek tragedy has a unique power to ‘say the unsayable’, as the contributors repeatedly suggest? When Hall writes of Bobby Kennedy’s speech that ‘only Aeschylus would do’, why does she think that a carefully chosen quote from Shakespeare, say, would have done Kennedy’s job any less well? It would have been useful, in fact, to see some discussion of how the fate of the Bard (who has his own honourable record as a vehicle for political dissent all over the world) differs from that of Greek tragedy. It would even have been useful to get a glimpse of some opposition to the current theatrical enthusiasm for all things Hellenic. What of the argument, for example, that ancient tragedy is more the problem than the solution, and that part of the reason why Western culture deals so ineffectively with the horrors of war, or the inequalities of gender, is that it cannot think through these issues outside the frame established in Athens more than two millennia ago? And what of the argument, rather briefly skated over by Lorna Hardwick in her essay on post-colonialism, that performances of the Bacchae in Cameroon or Antigone in South Africa – far from being politically empowering interventions – in fact represent the ultimate victory of the colonial power. Native culture may throw out its political overlords, but it is still left performing their damned plays.

This is from the article "Only Aeschylus Will Do", which, as I am approaching the end of the book, is proving an excellent bridge to my upcoming reading project about the Classical world.


It also poses interesting questions about cultural imperialism, and how insidious it is. Beard poses the question of whether a quote by Shakespeare could not have had the same effect. But to what extent is using Shakespeare not just another example of the same cultural imperialism?


It's a rhetorical question more than anything, but the mention made me think.

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text 2020-03-22 12:01
Reading progress update: I've read 129 out of 311 pages.
Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations - Mary Beard

I'm really enjoying this even if it is not at all what I expected. Essentially, this book is a collection of articles and book reviews that Beard wrote, which address some of the personalities or aspects of the classical world, but mostly focus on the difficulty posed to historians, archaeologists, biographers etc. in interpreting and explaining what people and life was really like in the classical world.


Still, I love the way that Beard dissects some of our modern images of Ancient Greece and Rome, and traces some of the trends and themes that seem to be recurring attitudes.

"As Tacitus, and other ancient writers recognised, historians are by definition excluded from the decision-making that takes place behind the closed doors of an autocracy.

   Women close to the man in power may, of course, capitalise on that proximity to promote their own interests. At the same time, they also provide the analyst with a handy – and untestable – explanation of why the man acts as he does. Just as the modern press has found Nancy Reagan or Cherie Blair convenient explanatory tools, when all else fails, in accounting for their husbands’ policy decisions, so ancient historians could always fall back on Livia or other imperial women when it came to making sense of the vagaries of the emperor’s actions. There is no way of telling if they were right. Charges of poisoning are a particularly loaded example of just this problem. Women – from Livia through Lucretia Borgia to Harriet Vane – have always been victims of accusations of this type (a typically sly female crime, and a neat perversion of the woman’s role as cook and housekeeper). But who could tell whether a poisoned mushroom was really that, or just an innocently unrecognised toadstool? And should we always assume that sudden deaths were brought about by those who ultimately benefited from them? Such assumptions produce tidy history, but they may not be correct."

I'm particularly entertained at the moment by Beard taking apart I, Claudius, and pointing out the extent of the creative licence that was taken with the book and, even more so, the BBC series. 

It just comes back to this: TV series and historical fiction are great for getting people interested in history etc., but they must not be mistaken for fact.


I'm really rather enjoying these articles. 

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text 2020-03-05 22:18
New Project: Ides of March...and all of April
Classics: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) - Mary Beard,John Henderson
Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations - Mary Beard
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome - Mary Beard
Frogs and Other Plays - Aristophanes,David B. Barrett,Shomit Dutta
The Persians and Other Plays - Alan Sommerstein,Alan H. Sommerstein,Aeschylus
Medea and Other Plays - John Davie,Euripides,Richard Rutherford
The Oresteia: Agamemnon / The Libation Bearers / The Eumenides - William Bedell Stanford,Aeschylus,Robert Fagles

Having finished three underwhelming books in a row, I need something good.


While I will also pick up Woolf's A Room of One's Own (in celebration of having my flat back after the window-fitting has finished) and have high hopes for that one, I'm also hankering for some reads about Ancient Greece and Rome.


I'll leave it to your opinion whether this was inspired by starting to read Mary Beard's Confronting the Classics, but let's say that I've had a lot of fun spending time in Ancient Greece last August and have been wanting to embark on a similar project for some time. 


So, while I'm getting an introduction to the Classics provided by Mary Beard, I'll kick off the project on the Ides of March with a read of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar followed by as many of the listed titles I can get to all the way through April. 

And as many of these are also on my physical shelves, this should tie in nicely with my 2020 Mt. TBR Project.

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text 2019-08-02 16:45
Halloween Bingo 2019 PreParty -- Question for 08/02 (Day 2): Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies or Other?
The Little Witch - Anthea Bell,Otfried Preu├čler,Winnie Gebhardt-Gayler
Witch Hunts in the Western World: Persecution and Punishment from the Inquisition Through the Salem Trials - Brian A. Pavlac
Macbeth - William Shakespeare
Women & Power: A Manifesto - Mary Beard
Good Omens - Terry Pratchett,Neil Gaiman
Wyrd Sisters - Terry Pratchett
Men at Arms (Discworld, #15) - Terry Pratchett
Ladyhawke - Joan D. Vinge
Dracula - Bram Stoker
The Vampire Lestat - Anne Rice


One of my very first literary heroine was a little witch who manages to get the better of all the bigger, older witches after having been put down by them -- the heroine of Otfried Preußler's Little Witch.  (In fact, I loved that book enough to write my very first fan letter to the author about it ... and I still love it enough to have put it on MR's "1001" list.)


Ever since, I've come to be interested in them because women are almost always maligned as "witches" when people are afraid of them because they -- the women in question -- happen to be better at something (or are merely perceived as being better at something) than others.  That's true for the poor ladies of centuries past who just happened to know their herbs a bit better than their neighbors, potentially even better than the local monastery's herbalist, and who, after having helped countless community members with every ailment from headaches to abortion, were duly burned at the stake for their troubles the second they even inadvertently stepped on someone's toes.  And it's still true for women who happen to be better at their jobs nowadays than their (mostly, but not necessarily male) colleagues.  Other slurs such as plainly denigrate -- "witch" (and to a certain extent also "bitch") implies an irrational element of fear.  In light of that, the transformation of witches -- or their perception -- from the worst of evil bogey(wo)men conceivable to a positive identification with the "women's power" movement is a thing to behold; not least in literature.


Which, incidentally, is just one more reason why I love Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's Good Omens.   And along the same lines, who wouldn't love Mr. Pratchett's Granny Weatherwax and her coven?



Though, speaking of Pratchett, he has also created just about the only werewolf I can get behind (and for similar reasons) -- Angua of the Night Watch. 


And, well, yeah, in terms of stories that were films before they were books, Ladyhawke of course ... which isn't so much a horror as a "doomed lovers" story, obviously.



Vampires, though?  Hmm.  I mean, on the one hand, give me Dracula rather than Edward Cullen any day of the week (and I'm saying that as a confirmed non-horror reader).  On the other hand, I read Anne Rice's vampire novels -- until she turned BBA, that is -- for just about everything but the horror aspect; in fact, if she'd ramped up that one I'd have been gone in a flash.  (Incidentally, Rice once revealed in an interview that Lestat's character was inspired by Rutger Hauer's portrayal of Etienne de Navarre in Ladyhawke.  Go figure.)




And zombies?  Leave me alone and get the hell out of here.  They creep me out so badly I won't even go anywhere near them in a supposedly humorous context (like the "white trash zombie" novels that are currently all the rage).



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review 2019-01-27 02:25
How Do We Looke - Mary Beard

When the more recent Civilization was shown on PBS, they edited it a bit from the British version because we can’t have nice things in America since we elected an orange.  But they edited out much Mary Beard which is so not right.


                Really not right.


                So if you are wondering why Mary Beard wrote a book that functions as a companion to the series that’s why.  The book is  a look at how the viewer interacts with art.  She focuses on ancient and religious art.  There are some cool bits about the ancient world, and her comments about the statues of pharaohs are worthy of thought.   


                It is worth well quick read.

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