Month: September 2015

October 2015 titles

Given the length of The Mahabharata, I won’t promise how much I will manage in October, especially as work has increased to a size where I needed to postpone my holidays sitting in the sun reading.

After the Mahabharata, I will tackle

  • The first 5 books of the Old Testament (haven’t chosen which version of the Bible, but probably the King James Version)
  • The Art of War (Sun Tzu)
  • The next 7 books of the Old Testament
  • The Homeric Hymns
  • Tao te Ching (Lao Tzu)

One or two titles beyond that, and I will be firmly entrenched in the Greek plays by December.

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While you are waiting … The Mahabharata

I have started on an abridged version of the Mahabharata – only 800 pages instead of the 30 VOLUME set in my local university library. I am disregarding the warning by the editor in his introduction that it is “common throughout large parts of India is a superstition that reading the Mahabharata (or at least reading all of it) brings misfortune” and instead focusing on the actual promises in the first section, of the great boons granted to any one who reads or repeats even a small part.

My copy is a Penguin Classic abridged and translated by John D. Smith (9780670084159) which took him over ten years to complete, so will understand if I don’t finish it quickly. 🙂

We have also passed 100 views for this little blog, and considering its focus, I am pleased to have had that much notice in the first three months.

16. Elegies by Theognis

Contents : Many short verses attributed to Theognis survive. They form the second half of the Penguin publication Hesiod and Theognis which I have kept nearby since reading Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days.

My thoughts: While Aesop and Hesiod loved to pass on advice in fables or poetry, they mostly succeed because the reader is convinced that they mean well. On the other hand, Theognis comes across as a vain and self-pitying old trout who is desperate to keep his boy lover’s regard, yet his advice is petty and inconsistent. Let’s move on, as no doubt his toy boy Kurnos did.

Personal rating : 1/10

15. Aesop’s Fables

aesop

Contents: Short tales often embodying a moral or lesson, the Fables attributed to Aesop often feature talking animals who display all the foibles and shortcomings of humans. Legend insists that Aesop was a slave who won his freedom by his clever advice and stories. The collection I read for this project (0330245333) was first published in 1912, and is charmingly illustrated with line drawings and colour plates by Arthur Rackham.

My thoughts : i remember reading Aesop in  school, and of course some of the fables are so entrenched in our culture we know the stories and morals perhaps without realizing their source (The Tortoise and the Hare, Androcles and the Lion, The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, The Grasshopper and the Ants)

Favourite lines/passages:  Many of the fables are very clever and yet very brief. My favourites include the well known ones listed above of course, but also the donkey who thinks if he acts like a small dog and jumps all over his  master, he will be rewarded (not likely!) ;  the Wind and the Sun competing to part a man from his coat ; and the Mouse who repays the Lion for sparing his life by later gnawing through the ropes binding him.

Diversions/digressions:  I must admit that I didn’t get diverted by the content of the fables, but diverted away from them as there were over 300 in this book, and with each barely a paragraph, it is difficult to get a head of steam up for the job and read many of them in one sitting. Reading these is probably best done in small doses between other tasks.

Personal rating :  5/10

Kimmy the Lit-Terrier’s rating : With so many animals doing some strange things, Kimmy gives this 4/5
Next  : Theognis’ Elegies

Oh no! What have I done?

While reading the mammoth near-700 page Ramayana, it suddenly struck me that to be true to this venture, I will have to re-read Moby Dick at some point in the distant future. And Wuthering Heights!! While there are no doubt devotees of both these classics of literature somewhere out there, all I could think was arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrghhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!

Back to the immediate future, I think I will postpone the other great Indian epic The Mahabharata just for a week or two to catch my literary breath and tackle some smaller works. The dates for many of these works are a matter of debate at best, so the  next title will be Aesop’s Fables. I actually read these a year ago, so this will probably be a quick referesher over my favourites.

14. The Ramayana by Valmiki

Plot :  A young prince Rama, his beautiful wife Sita and his loyal brother Lakshmana agree to 14 years’ exile in the jungle on the eve of Rama’s coronation as King of Asoyada. In the last year of exile, Sita is kidnapped by the king of demons Ravana,  and it is Rama’s destiny to kill Ravana. He is aided by a race of magical monkeys (vanaras), bears and other demons (rakshasas)

ramayana

My thoughts : A truly epic masterpiece, ranking in terms of literature with western classics such as The Lord of the Rings, yet with a very strong moral centre and a host of admirable and godlike individuals. Even the villain Ravana is described in noble and praiseworthy ways, and the reader has to be reminded how evil he is, when it is easy to sympathise with his Fate to love Sita leading him and many of his subjects to their doom.

I read a modern English version written by Ramesh Menon which was extremely approachable despite hundreds of unfamiliar Indian words (a glossary is provided in the back of the book, but the reader soon becomes in tune with the words and accepts their approximate meaning so as not to disrupt the story too much). Menon uses a great many small chapters within the original seven book structure, and it took me a long time to read the almost 700 pages.

Favourite lines/passages : In such a long epic, there are many scenes which stand out. Ravana’s gigantic brother Kumbhakarna who must sleep all but two days per year as his massive appetite would devour the world, and must be woken carefully with great piles of food and drink, and willing women, to satisfy all his hungers at once, was a wonderful villain, and his ravenous attack on the monkey army was chilling to read. The marvellous and wise vanara Hanuman, who flew to the Himalayas not once but twice to carry a mountain of medicinal herbs to the battle at Ravana’s citadel in Lanka (Sri Lanka), and his other magical tricks, was also a favourite.

Diversions/digressions : As Rama and Sita are human incarnations of Vishnu and Lakshmi, it would be appropriate to learn more about the Hindu pantheon. It was also interesting to speculate on the flying machine, the Pushpaka vimana, which Menon describes as a flying disc, bigger on the inside (able to carry the thousands of monkey-like vanaras at one time back to Rama’s coronation), and transparent from the inside.

Personal rating : Enjoyed immensely 8/10.