An interesting video

This is an excerpt from a documentary an compares the Irish bardic tradition to that of Homer.

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Eclipse dating

Although I want to be getting back to posting on this blog regularly in future, for now I will merely offer a eclipse_dating which purports to have established the exact date of an eclipse mentioned in the Odyssey.

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The Odyssey Book 2: lines 103-128

Penelope and the Suitors by John William Water...

Penelope and the Suitors by John William Waterhouse (1912). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here Antinous‘ speech to his fellow suitors continues. He goes into greater detail about how Penelope deceived him and his fellow suitors. One should notice as well the use of the imperfect tense as in the first of these lines. The deception lasted some considerable time. As the audience, we are expected to be laughing at the suitors at this point, especially as Antinous whines about being fooled in a most undignified manner. This is the man who wants to act as Penelope’s husband, someone she is supposed to respect and admire, seriously?

Cretan thyme

Cretan thyme

This humorous passage is a good point to highlight the word-play regularly going on throughout the Odyssey. For example, the literal meaning of the word θυμῷ in context is in [my] heart, but it also in principle could mean a number of things suggestive of silly imagery such as in the Cretan thyme. The heart was in antiquity regarded as the seat of knowledge, of reason and of wisdom, but the suitors are portrayed as lacking either knowledge or wisdom. Hence the use of a less common word for heart which suggests little purle flowers rather than a strong mind.

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An article about Greek music

Music lesson: teacher (right, inscription: ΣΜΙ...

Music lesson: teacher (right, inscription: ΣΜΙΚΥΔΟΣ) and his student (left, ΕΥΔΥΜΙΔΕΣ). Between them, a boy (ΤΛΕΜΠΟΜΕΝΟΣ) narrates a text. Attic red-figure hydria, ca. 510 BC. From Vulci. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This article from the BBC discusses new evidence about Greek music. In particular, it discusses deciphering of a later Greek method of musical notation and understanding of ancient Greek musical instruments. A sample of reconstructed music is included. To the modern ear, it seems to leave something to be desired but one should recall that Greek music is dominated by chants.

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(Pre-)Golden Age Science Fiction Free Online

The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1950

The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1950 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Instead of continuing to discuss the development of science fiction as a genre of literature, this post is going to talk about resources for finding Golden Age and pre-Golden Age science fiction, whether short stories, novellas or novels, freely available online. In many cases, copyright was never renewed and so much of the literature I will refer to in posts to come (as well as stuff I shan’t mention) can be found on-line cost-free in full, both as texts and audio-files of stories and books being read. Google is your friend in this regard as lists are virtually imposible to keep up to date.

Two of the greatest resources in this regard are Librivox and Project Gutenberg. The former does list short stories and novels, but again such lists will never entirely be up to date. The index for science fiction on Project Gutenberg might be more reliable.

Another good point to make here is that Project Gutenberg is multilingual and so works in a variety of languages can be found.

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Jules Verne and the birth of science fiction proper

Stylized illustration of a spaceship and the s...

Stylized illustration of a spaceship and the sun, based on the description of the emblem of the fictional Galactic Empire in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series (“The golden globe with its conventionalized rays, and the oblique cigar shape that was a space vessel”). This image could be used as a icon for science-fiction related articles. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first writer I would identify as writing what can be properly termed science fiction is the French author Jules Verne. Admittedly, a case could be made for Mary Shelley who penned the novel Frankenstein, but in my view that masterpiece has more in common with Gothic horror than science fiction. Nevertheless, I would certainly count it as proto-science fiction.

Although as a genre science fiction includes much more than hard science fiction, as a genre I would argue it owes its character and existence to the hard science fiction sub-genre. The reason I make this distinction is simple. Until one had Jules Verne taking the scientific and technological principle of the day and extrapolating them as a basis of stories, modern fantastic stories had not fundamentally distinguished themselves from those which had come before. Yet inherently science fiction in its proper sense is in fact different than other fantastic literature in that it draws on specifically modern notions of “what-if”.

Naturally, the distinction is not hard and fast. For example, Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel Dune involves mystical and religious elements. Many of Isaac Asimov‘s Robot stories and novels and some parts of his Foundation series include telepathy. These are typically however put down to powers of the human mind.

Verne started as a playwright and also wrote travel literature. Virtually everything he wrote, to a greater or lesser degree, also reflected social issues. Thus, his science fiction works continue the social consciousness and extent travel literature to more speculative journeys. These fantastic travels had a basis in the technology of the time. For example, experiments with submarines had been conducted by the Confederacy during the American Civil War, a few years before Vingt mille lieues sous les mers was published. Having been trained by Alexandre Dumas who was notorious for his furious production of works, it is unlikely that Verne conceived the idea for the book before hearing of the American or similar experiments. The use of ballistics to create rocketry to go to the moon was an idea also increasingly discussed. Of course, it only succeeded after the idea of using an analog of a gun-barrel was put aside, but otherwise it worked. Rocketry is quintessentially an application of ballistics. Then the novel Le tour du monde en quatre-vingt jours no longer seems to modern readers to be science fiction, but in its time it decidedly was. Verne took the technologies involved to their limits.

For Verne, science fiction was an extension of travel literature and he brought his social criticism into it from the start. Both of these aspects would leave their mark on the genre as it developed, but it was British author H. G. Wells who took the next step.

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The Odyssey Book 2: lines 96-102

Antinous

Antinous (Photo credit: █ Slices of Light █▀ ▀ ▀)

The speech of Antinous, the leader of the suitors, continues in these lines, as it will in the lines of the Odyssey that follow. What stands out in this passage is first that Antinous seeks to speak badly of Penelope so that the audience should be asking again why he and the other suitors wish to marry her then. The theme that the suitors are rebels against the kingship of Odysseus in Ithaca who are trying to usurp a position that is simply beyond them continues. One should always bear in mind that Penelope is just as much a hero, in the sense of Greek religion, as are either Odysseus or Telemachus. As a queen, especially as a ruling queen, she makes decisions which have a major impact of the lives of everyone in the kingdom. She is a hero too, namely a demi-god. The suitors are all too flawed and human. They are not up to ruling a kingdom.

Gold ring representing Penelope waiting for Od...

Gold ring representing Penelope waiting for Odysseus. Syria, last quarter of the 5th century BC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, Penelope shows herself to be the feminine counterpart of Odysseus as well as his faithful wife. The heroic trait which defines Odysseus is his craftiness, especially that he is a consummate liar who gets away with it. He was after all, the person who thought of the stratagem of using the Trojan horse. So, here from the mouth of the chief suitor, we the audience hear that Penelope deceived the suitors by claiming to accept that Odysseus is dead and that she should marry one of the suitors and then saying that the wedding would have to wait until after we finished weaving the burial shroud of Laertes, Odysseus’ father; of course, she would weave it during the day and then unweave it again at night. She managed to continue this for four years. We the audience are not told exactly how Penelope has continued to rule alone for the other six years but she has. The obvious implication is that she used her intellect and outsmarted the suitors.

Of course, the Greek attitude towards women (which is often downright misogynistic) should also be borne in mind in this passage. Being outsmarted by a “mere” woman would bring the suitors’ manhood into question. Likewise, an ancient Greek listener would be likely to wonder how Antinous and the other suitors expect to rule a kingdom if they cannot even control its queen.

Looking though at the Odyssey as a product of the Mycenaean Greek of Greek history, I suspect that this unflattering interpretation developed latter in the proto-Classical period. Personally I doubt that the people from whom the stories that later became the Iliad and the Odyssey originated shared the disparaging attitudes toward women that their cultural descendants did. Penelope is a woman one can and should respect and admire. Again, like the men in her family, she too is a hero and hence a cut above other people. She is in every way Odysseus’ equal and the suitors’ superior.

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