Month: August 2018

194. The Gospel according to St. Mark (KJV)

194. The Gospel according to St. Mark (KJV)

This post marks a successful spin read for the Classics Club challenge August 2018, having read up to number 9 on my list nominated at the beginning of the month, so there may be new readers to the blog and this post. Hence I repeat my earlier disclaimer : the following posts on the New Testament are not to be read as criticism or discussion of the Books as religious texts but solely my experiences reading them as literature.

So to Mark, and how is it different from Matthew?  Well, apart from skipping the nativity story of Jesus, and starting with his baptism by John the Baptist, there is a great deal of similarity in covering the same major events and miracles of Jesus’ life reported in Matthew, even down to quoting the same speeches almost word for word. What is missing is a lot of those notable phrases that so enlivened Matthew and have been immortalised in literature ever since, which I listed in my previous post.

There was one new addition, (the story of Jesus casting out a legion of devils from one man, into a herd of two thousand swine, who then drown themselves in the sea) and perhaps more stress on the acts of the twelve disciples to heal the sick and cast out devils from the afflicted. There are also some omissions  (Judas betrays Jesus but the bribe amount is not specified and the fate of Judas is not mentioned) and discrepancies (Jesus appears after his resurrection to the disciples as they sit disbelieving Mary’s report, rather than the disciples traveling to the mountain in Galilee to meet him)

Favourite lines/passages:

“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath”    Mark, ch 2:27

“For what shall it profit a man, if he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”  Mark, ch. 8:36

Personal rating:  As I rated Matthew with all its memorable and quotable lines  5/10, I can give Mark  no better than 4/10

Next : The third Gospel, Luke.

193. The Gospel according to St. Matthew (KJV)

193. The Gospel according to St. Matthew (KJV)

First a disclaimer.  As I stated with my posts on the various Books of the Old Testament, these following posts on the New Testament are not to be read as criticism or discussion of the Books as religious texts but solely my experiences reading them as literature.  I have never read these in their entirety before now, but obviously know the basics and many of the parables since Sunday School.

The first book of the New Testament is the Gospel according to St. Matthew, relating the life of Jesus Christ from his conception by the Holy Ghost to the virgin Mary, through to his crucifixion and resurrection. There are three further tellings of his life in the NT (Mark, Luke and John) and from what is and is not present in Matthew, I think the story will be like four layers hopefully building as near-complete a picture as possible, sometimes repeating events, and sometimes filling in gaps.

I won’t outline all the events in Matthew as I suspect all my readers will have at the very least the broad outlines. Instead I’ll focus on what were, for me, the lesser known stories and surprises.

Firstly the sheer wealth of famous quotations. Of course, on reflection this would be obvious, but it is the strongest impression I was left with :

the meek shall inherit the earth/ salt of the earth/ hiding one’s light under a bushel/Get Thee hence Satan/ mote in one’s eye/casting pearls before swine/false prophets (wolves) in sheep’s clothing/by their fruits shall ye know them/blind leading the blind/o ye of little faith/suffer the little children/out of the mouths of babes/many are called but few are chosen/render unto Caesar/spirit is willing but flesh is weak/take the sword perish with the sword/’washing his hands’ of something unpopular, and many more.

Then there were the parts I hadn’t heard before:

  • Matthew was a publican (no, not the owner of a pub, but a tax collector for the Romans)
  • that there were two instances of Jesus feeding the multitudes with loaves and fishes, the first with five loaves and two fishes, feeding five thousand (chapter 14), and then with seven loaves and a few little fishes feeding four thousand (chapter 15)
  • that Judas threw back the thirty pieces of silver after the arrest of Jesus, and hanged himself
  • the Lord’s Prayer is laid out verbatim in Matthew  (6 : 9-13)

What I didn’t understand well, or seemed to jar with the rest of the Gospel, was the Parable of the Talents. A master going away entrusts his servants with talents of gold, and all but one invests the money and shows a profit. The exception is scared and buries the gold. When the master claims back the talents, he is pleased with the profits made, but berates the man who merely kept the gold safe. Even though this is meant as an analogy, perhaps to spread the word of the Lord after Jesus dies, it still seems an odd vehicle for the message, given that Jesus scoured the temple of moneylenders.

What I did like was that now the Lord’s message is to be shared with all the nations of the World  – the God of the New Testament is for all mankind, not just the tribes of Israel; and the Gospel ends with the disciples being sent to spread the Word.


Each of the Four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) is usually depicted in Christian art with one of the four creatures in Revelation 4:7, which I will try to include in the post images. Matthew is usually depicted with a winged man (angel)

My rating :  5/10

Other reading : Sharpe’s Tiger, a re-read of the chronologically first volume in the Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell. Set in the war between the forces of the British Army (acting in the interests of the British East India Company) and the Tippoo Sultan of Mysore in 1799. Private Sharpe is entrusted with a mission to pretend to be a deserter and enter the Sultan’s forces at Saringapatam and return with knowledge of the city’s weaknesses gathered by captured spy McCandless. The flaws and bravery of men on both sides is portrayed well. A great story with lots of colour and excitement, a wonderful anti-hero in brawler Sharpe and unforgettable villain in evil, twitching Sgt Obadiah Hakeswill. 9/10

Next : The Gospel according to St. Mark



OK, most of my days I am an easygoing and forgiving person. But sometimes my fellow humans just make my eyes roll.

It’s book week here in Australia, and in the bookshop I will get an influx of a certain type of customer: a parent who needs to have a book as a prop to demonstrate where and what their child is costumed as. Many are great folk who have a smattering of knowledge of children’s literature, or at least know what their kids read. (Presumably the parents who are constant readers already have a small library of children’s classics at home, or at the very least know where the town’s public library is.)

But yesterday took the biscuit.

Customer : Do you have any books on pirate zombies?

Me : Err, for what age.

Customer : {looking at picture books) Seven year old boy.

Me : Well, we certainly have some books on pirates.

Customer : What about the Pirates of the Caribbean?

Me : We might have had some when the movies came out, but not any more. What about Treasure Island?

Customer : What’s that?

Me : (under my breath)   @&#(&Q#(%&()#&%(#&@!!!!!!!!

Now I don’ t expect the average person on the street to have heard of Homer or le Morte d’Arthur, but seriously!!! WTF!!!!!   Treasure Island!!! Long John Silver!!! Peglegs and parrots!!!!

Am I being unreasonable here?? Even the Muppets did Treasure Island!

OK rant over.  Back to my stable persona. Thanks for listening.


192. Octavia, not by Seneca (c.69-70 AD)

192. Octavia, not by Seneca (c.69-70 AD)

Plot:  Octavia, stepsister and reluctant wife of the Emperor Nero, is to be discarded in favour of his concubine Poppaea. Her life is now in jeopardy, not least because of her popularity with the masses.

My version was from Seneca, The Complete Tragedies, published by University of Chicago Press and edited by Shadi Bartsch (Vol. 1, ISBN 9780226748238). The image attached to this post is meant to represent Nero, and not any current world leader. 😉

My thoughts :   This play survived the ages because people believed it was penned by Seneca, and was appended to volumes of his own plays. Modern research now shows that characters in the play speak of events in Nero’s timeline which happened  after Seneca’s death. It also features Seneca as a character which would have been a first for literature at this time.

Not a polished play. The first act show Octavia sharing her fears with her nurse, and setting the scene, while the second has Seneca trying to show Nero the honour and mercy that the Emperor could offer, but Nero is too power crazed and arrogant to consider his words. The last third is a jumble of pieces by different characters, possibly intended to be fleshed out into Acts 3, 4 and 5 as was typical of Seneca’s plays. Nero’s mother’s ghost returns to curse the new wedding (Nero had her killed once she had secured his adoption by Claudius and succession as Emperor), Poppaea dreaming of her own death, the news reaching Nero that the crowds are rioting and tearing down statues and calling for Octavia to be restored to the palace, and finally Octavia waiting at the docks for exile to a foreign land where she will be quickly and quietly executed.

Favourite lines/passages:

Octavia : “Sooner will savage seas be yoked to stars, fire to water, and heaven to grim Tartarus … than my mind, … be yoked to the impious mind of my evil spouse”                        Day 1, line 222-226.

Nero : The sword will guard the emperor.      Seneca : Loyalty is stronger.

Nero : Men should fear Caesar.            Seneca : Better if men love him.    

Personal rating:   An extra point for bringing a new story, 5/10.

Also in these years: (from The Book of Key Facts, Paddington Press, 1978)

Nero kills himself 68 AD. Several contenders for the job opening appear in 69 AD, in what was known as the year of the four emperors. Galba, commander in Spain, declares himself Emperor; while Roman legions in Germany proclaim their general Vitellius as Emperor. Otho, one of Nero’s cronies, kills Galba, and is named Emperor by the Senate, but commits suicide after defeat by Vitellius. Meanwhile, Vespasian, governor of Judea has the support of the eastern provimces, and defeats Vitellius, settling the matter and becoming emperor, founding a new dynasty.

Next :  Finally, the New Testament. Essential background for the next two thousand years of Western literature, as Greek mythology has been for the past thousand.

191. Hercules on Oeta, possibly by Seneca (c. 68 BC)

191. Hercules on Oeta, possibly by Seneca (c. 68 BC)

Plot:   Deianira, second wife of Hercules (after he murdered his first wife Meagara in madness), is enraged by the arrival of a batch of slave girls including the beautiful Iole, for whom Hercules has ransacked the town of Oechalia. First she wants to murder him, then changes her mind and uses a potion to reignite his love for her. But the label on the bottle is misleading.

My version was from Seneca, The Complete Tragedies, published by University of Chicago Press and edited by Shadi Bartsch (Vol. 2, ISBN 9780226013602)

My thoughts :

Again this is a retelling of an earlier Greek story, told by Sophocles in his play The Women of Trachis.

A long play in comparison to others (in fact, the longest surviving play from the Ancient Greek and Roman world), with much repetition of ideas (I lost track of how many times I was ‘reminded’ of Hercules’ twelve labours, and how he was the avenger of the world, who destroyed all the evil monsters and tyrants. In Act 1, Hercules is demanding to be put amongst the stars, to be made a god. He rightly points out that the monsters he defeated, even down to the lowly Crab, have been made constellations while he remains earthbound.

Hercules : “Every beast has now invaded the sky’s vault ahead of me!  I, the victor, gaze up from earth at my own labors….”                                                            Act I, lines 72-74

Acts 2 and 3 show Deianira ranting and raving with her nurse, first over her plan to murder Hercules, (and so doing Juno’s work for her) and then using the gore from the wound which killed the centaur Nessus as a love potion. But it was tainted with the Hydra poison from Hercules’ arrow; Nessus’ final revenge on his killer.

Hercules roars in defeat from the one enemy he cannot reach, his body tortured and eaten away by the internal fire. He orders a huge pyre to be built on Mt Oeta, upon which he throws himself, and embraces the flames without showing pain, before rising to the Heavens to be made a God. Deianira commits suicide with a sword, leaving Hercules’s mother and son to carry on in a heroless world.

Personal rating:  Needed editing. Perhaps it was a work in progress that the author never returned to?  3/10

Next :  The last ‘Senecan’ play, and very unlikely to have been written by Seneca, Octavia


190. The Apocolocyntosis (Pumpkinification of the Divine Claudius) possibly by Seneca

190. The Apocolocyntosis (Pumpkinification of the Divine Claudius) possibly by Seneca

Plot: Emperor Claudius dies and applies for deification at the gates of Olympus. The Gods debate his suitability, and decide to send him to Hades instead.

My version was translated and appended as a postscript by Robert Graves to his second Claudian historical novel Claudius the God.  (The wonderful art depicted above is Claudius the Pumpkin sculpted by mindslave24_7, see

My thoughts :   Very quick read (only ten pages) – I read it before breakfast this morning!

Since Seneca was sent into exile by Claudius, it is no surprise that he may have been a little miffed and took the opportunity to have a dig after the Emperor died. He also satirized the whole idea of deifying emperors, although was sure to praise and wish Nero a long life as well.

Once Claudius is escorted to Hell, he meets the ranks of family members, friends and senators he had pronounced death sentences on; and is condemned to eternal dice rolling from a bottomless cup, losing the dice before a single throw can be made, until Caligula claims him as his ex-slave and sets him to be a scribe.

Personal rating: Amusing but inconsequential. 4/10

Next :  Some even more spurious Senecan plays : Hercules on Oeta, and Octavia


189. The Satyricon by Petronius (c. 68 AD)

189. The Satyricon by Petronius (c. 68 AD)

Plot  : The adventures, amorous and otherwise, of Encolpius; his slave and lover Giton, and various other acquaintances.

My version is the New American Library edition translated by William Arrowsmith (1959)

My thoughts :  Only an incomplete text survives of this comedy, but most fragments are large enough to tell at least part of the story. The most lengthy surviving piece describes a feast hosted by the vulgarly rich Trimalchio, a former slave who has become wealthy as a merchant. Among the dishes served at the all-night banquet are “dormice dipped in honey, rolled in poppyseed”, and an enormous roast sow, from which dozens of live thrushes emerge upon the start of carving, which are then caught and offered to the guests to take home as souvenirs of the evening.  The evening becomes more farcical as the guests get more drunk until a mock funeral of their host is interrupted by firemen smashing the doors in.

Although much in love with his sixteen year old boy Giton, the latter sections see Encolpius also lusting deeply after the beautiful lady Circe, but his efforts prove fruitless twice. He reluctantly puts himself in the hands of two sorceresses to cure his impotence, but runs away when they apply a leather phallus “rubbed with a mixture of oil, pepper and ground nettleseed” to his rectum. Ouch.

Favourite lines/passages:

“We all have to die, so let’s live while we’re waiting”    page 78

Digressions/diversions:  Some more definitions (of p’s and q’s)

  • pother : fuss, bother
  • quondam : former, previous
  • querite : an individual Roman citizen

Personal rating:  Despite its incompleteness, I’ll rate it a 5/10.

Kimmy’s rating:  Impressed by all the food at the feast and live birds to chase. Bored by the human antics.

Next :  The Apocolocyntosis. The only surviving satire by Seneca (we think) so it forms a natural link from Petronius back to the remaining tragedies attributed to, but probably not, written by Seneca.