Tag Archives: book review

The Race is to the Swift, and the Battle to the Strong

It is the Mystifying Absurdities of Human Nature that seems to be more of animal instinct for the Survival of the Fittest. It always makes me wonder when I see people with a terrible temper and callous personalities being successful in their careers. Although Shakespeare said a fool thinks himself to be wise, people seem to think that fool to be wise in real life. That was what came to my mind while reading Samuel Johnson’s weekly essay, The Rambler, No.142, subtitled “A Rural Tyrant,” written on Saturday, July 27, 1751. (Come to think of the date, it seems that Johnson spent his weekend writing essays as in a journal, which is an admiring habit to emulate.)

Johnson tells the readers about a swanky mansion he and his wealthy acquaintance named Eugenio, who had invited Johnson to his rural estate, happened to pass a swanky mansion surrounded by the grandeur of wealth and pretentiousness of power. Until Eugenio had told his learned friend that the villa was known for ghostly hauntings, Johnson’s natural curiosity piqued his search for truth; thus, he began inquiring about the whys and wherefores of the ghost inhabitant. The ghost was Squire Bluster, a bilious, despotic employer of his household personnel and ruthless landlord of his villagers. His capricious fission of tempest kept their financial securities at his whimsical mercy. Bluster enjoyed the powers of terror and, in the height of his perverted joy, insulted those imploring for his mercy with malice and enmity. No wonder nobody in the village repaid his vice with contempt and conferred perennial infamy on his epithet after death – at least corporeally. Notwithstanding the shame, Bluster cared nothing of it and still reigned in horror at his earthly abode because to delight in ghostly terror was his new afterlife enjoyment. Johnson lamented that the evil squire had only the gloomy comfort of reflecting that he was likewise feared if he was hated.

In the same vein, the descendants of Squire Bluster are not a rare family but are ubiquitous boundless of territory, race, and gender. For example, employers are hardly magnanimous and altruistic in their expendable employees’ genuine wellness and demand their employees in the usual, professional pretext of constructive criticism packaged in belittling, castigation, and insulting for the sake of strictly business. But I never subscribe to such façade because we are not automats but with sense and judgment common to all human creatures. You can’t tell the other to grin and bear the insults because they are not supposed to mean personal. If you want your subordinates to do their job correctly, you must be worth receiving such quality labor from them by being respectful of your character. But alas, it is my only vain wish, an empty echo from the valley of my heart because the descendants of Squire Bluster are a multitude and will do whatever they think rightful and deserving. Don’t’ forget that respect from fear is a terror of the sense and a trademark of tyranny, exacting unchallenged obedience from people.

The Rambler – History

As members of society and citizens of the world, we are one way or another connected to the past, present, and future. That is why history is a multidisciplinary study to understand human nature and learn lessons from the past. Listen to Winston Churchill: “Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft.”  Watching our nation’s leaders on T.V., dividing the country into splinters of dissenters instead of embracing them as one people of the nation, makes me urge the current political leaders of our country to read about what it means to be an intelligent and influential ruler who knows a thing about leadership.

Roman emperor Hadrian was of history scholar, specialized in ancient Greek history and mythology. He was affectionately known as a “Greekling” and endeared and admired by the Greeks whose land he made in the Roman Empire. The Greeks’ love of the Roman Emperor was inscribed in the Arch of Hadrian built in AD 131, an archeological wonder with the 59 feet high structure made from marble from Mount Pentellicus used for the Parthenon, that read: “This is the city of Hadrian, and not of Theseus.” The Greek elation reached the pinnacle when their Roman ruler built the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian’s dedication to the king of Greek gods and goddesses’ splendor. He also made the legendary Library of Hadrian, containing 100 marble columns with halls with printed ceilings, alabaster walls, and great statues of the Olympians destroyed by the malice of fortune AD 267. Greek enthusiasm for their Roman emperor was no unreason for their willing submission to Rome’s rule, which they had once colonized. The site of the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Arch of Hadrian in modern Athens

The Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Arch of Hadrian

Hadrian’s fascination with Greece developed from his learning under the tutelage of his cousin Trojan became a foundation of Pan-Hellenism to turn Athens into a new cosmopolitan cultural center for the Roman Empire. By way of acculturation, Hadrian hoped to stabilize the Roman Empire’s fractious eastern part and effectuate the colonials’ ruling. Hadrian followed what the antecedent Roman poet laureate Virgil in the Aeneid to solidify Greece and Rome’s cultural link. In this fashion, he succeeded in ruling the colony with glad acceptance by the governed, who even declared him a founder of new cosmopolitan Greece, intent on cutting ties with the mythical ancient past.

Hadrian’s motto of Pan-Hellenism reminds me of Macedonian predecessor Alexander the Great’s Hellenism, both of which proved work in incorporating different cultures into a dominant culture with respect and benevolence. Both Alexander and Hadrian had an eye for beauty in arts embedded in cultures they annexed to the dominion and knew how to rule wisely and effectively. It was acculturation of the native cultures on both sides, the ruling and the ruled. Yet, Hadrian’s way of exercising sovereignty over Greece is more accommodating and welcoming, even if the intention was not free from political ambition. The ancient Athenian historian Thucydides confirmed that history is the ultimate record of the events by recognizing certain commonalities between the past and the present that transcends the subject of times and applying it to our present situation. If our current political leaders take a cue about social integration to the same vein’s present social conditions, it might help the country stratified by race and class.

‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’, by T.S. Eliot – review

Old Possum's Book of Practical CatsOld Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by Eliot T. S. (Thomas Stearns)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It was like being transported to Hayao Miyazaki’s beautiful, fanciful animated world to discover that T.S. Eliot wrote this delightfully whimsical book because, to quote himself, he was of “a Catholic cast of mind, a Puritanical temperament, and a Calvinist heritage.” To me, Eliot was always a grim, grave intellectual who would not deign to regale himself with anthropomorphic cats. It was part of curiosity about the writer himself and my interest in anything about cats because of my first cat at home. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is a compact collection of amusingly scintillating and elegantly profound poems about why cats behave the way they do and who they are really.

And the more I read, the more I enjoyed it because it was full of wittily whimsical rhythms and brilliantly capricious expressions like a pleasant medley of amiable Dickensian characters. The psychology of the indomitable, the incredible cats through his amiably keen observation of feline behaviors in everyday life is conveyed through the live practical cats:

  • Jennyany dots, a neat, elegant tabby Molly living in a tidy, smart household.
  • Growltiger, a sailor cat., living in the harbor, who knows all the taverns and pubs around, the
  • Rum Tum Tugger, who is and will always be himself

According to nominative determinism principles, Eliot gives the inscrutably and ineffably particular names to the cats that befit their characteristics and personalities. The names become the cats, and the cats become the peculiar existence.

The poetry was the inspiration of the mega Broadway musical hit “The Cats.” However, to go against the grain, I think that rather than the famed musical version, Hiroyuki Morita’s animated version of “Whisper of the Heart” about a good-hearted high school girl traveling to the land of talking biped clothed cats because of her kindness to cats, is close to Eliot’s idea of practical cats. The anthropomorphic cats in animation are free in all expression that human actors cannot perform with theatrical effects, which forces the audience to believe that what they see are cats. It is impossible to disassociate the visual fact from visceral imagery. The humans in makeup imitating cats render the feline characters fatuous and clownish. Ben Jonson, the great Elizabethan English playwright, would have adopted Eliot’s practical cats with his superb masks and sans the ludicrously exaggerated makeup and costumes.

In conclusion, with wits and simplicity, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is a hidden gem of Eliot’s works that is enjoyable by general readers, even if they do not have cats at home. Indeed, Eliot himself was a cat lover, and this adorable collection of poems might have been the whimsical scribbling of his cats at home from his daily lives with them. But what a way of tribute to his lovely creatures it is! Upon reading this book, you might want to write like him about your cats or other pets you have at home. I should think so, for I want to and am doing.

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From Egypt with Meow: ‘The Cat in Ancient Egypt’, by Jaromir Malek – review

The Cat in Ancient EgyptThe Cat in Ancient Egypt by Jaromir Malek

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I admit that most of my posts relate to the cat nowadays. But what else should I write about when an orphan kitten enters my castle and in need of care and love? My five-month-old cat Toro is a domestic short-haired breed as subsumed by a vet at the shelter, but his appearance and characteristics make me believe that he must be a descendent of Egyptian Mau. My conjectural reconstruction of Toro’s possible ancient scroll of his family (paternal) led me to  Jaromir Malek’s  The Cat in Ancient Egypt, which tells all about how cats became naturally harmonious with humans, which played a significant role in the anthropological and social aspects of splendid ancient Egyptian civilization.

The domestication of cats resulted from the advent of agriculture when man began to settle on the farm, and civilization came to blossom. It was about 1,500 years later than the domestication of dogs as hunting assistants to men. Of all the ancient civilizations, the Egyptians sow the seeds of love between the cats and humankind. Abounded with various fauna and flora benign to the human inhabitants, the jungle cats and African cats thrived and became familiar animals to the Egyptians, who began to use the cats to drive off pesky mice poisonous snakes threatening their lives and crops. Naturally, wild cats gradually learned to adapt their wild instinct to their new protective human environs. 

The frequency of cats’ representations in ancient Egyptian art is a creditable source to understand cats’ familiarity and recognition as pets in the overall culture and society. The images of cats first sporadically appeared in the tombs of pharaohs built during the Old Kingdom period (2647 -2124 B.C) and became widespread mural art features by the New Kingdom (1549-1069 B.C.), which is also called the renaissance of the pyramids. Maybe it was because of the mysterious aura surrounding the inscrutable demureness of a cat, or it was the otherwordly aloofness wrapt in ethereal agility. Cats became popular hieroglyphic and effigial motifs for artists and priests alike in cultural and religious contexts decorating chambers within sacred tombs and temples. Also, cats were the aesthetic muse for women’s high fashion, used as motifs for the jewelry of queens and women of high society.

What evolved from a quid pro quo relationship between man and beast for the survival of the species found its way to the high seat in the eternal world. The familiarity and recognition of cats’ usefulness blessed with physical charm elevated the beastly origin into a divine status in the statuesque form of goddess Bastet, the sister of the Sun god Ra, representing female sexuality and fertility, which reflected the specific characteristics of the animal. The Sun god himself was also called the Great Tomcat because the god meowed during what he was doing. So much so that the ancient Persians used to equip the shields with live cats at war with the Egyptians, who dared not to harm their sacred animals.

On the other hand, cats were not altogether distant from the everyday lives of the ancient Egyptians. The Greek historian Herodotus further corroborated that the Egyptians shaved their eyebrows when their cats died as a sign of mourning. The more cats became domesticated, the more multiferous their features became. Artists started using cats as a caricature of specific human characteristics illustration of fables with a moral content, representing the absurdities of reality in a humorously wise way. Such artistic trend was most conspicuous during the Ptolomy period when Egypt was under the Hellenistic influence to resist foreign cultural force. Cats were symbolized as the animal inherently Egyptian to the land of pharaohs.

Beautifully written with sentences that conjure up the images of ancient Egyptian cats, Malek’s The Cat in Ancient Egypt serves its purpose of educating and entertaining the curious reader who wants to know more about his or her beloved feline creature at home. That doesn’t mean that this book is reserved only for cat owners or lovers. This book has refreshingly excellent archeological and anthropological knowledge about human civilization, impacting animal life. The affection is the elder sister of the understanding. I personally selected this book to read because I wanted to know more about my cat. Likewise, this book is for readers who want to know more about Nature and People’s history.

 

 

The Heroic Age Revisited: ‘The Tale of Troy’, by Roger Lancelyn Green – review

The Tale of TroyThe Tale of Troy by Roger Lancelyn Green

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

History is a branch of literature woven by artists and artificers with stories full of events, places, and people embroidered on the latticework of time, which mirrors the invariable pith of humanity to posterity. In truth, history is a literary creation of reality in the habiliment of artistic imagination, which we call mythology. In this regard, The Tale of Troy by Roger Lancelyn Green is a refreshingly cracking retelling of historical Trojan War knitted together with mythological strands as though to be seen from a magical casement to the misty antiquity, which Herodotus defines as the Heroic Age of the Five Ages of Man (which, by the way, Ovid interestingly omitted in his Roman version of the Ages of Men) when divine immortals responded to your pleas directly and promptly and freely made love with their beautiful mortal subjects with unquelled divine lust.

Drawn on a compendium of classical narratives of ancient writers, principally Homer’s Iliad, Green retells the beginning and end of Trojan War, reprises the scenes of the heroic characters and capricious Immortals, and remasters the thematic theater of dramas collapsing a great divide of time and space with his genius story-telling skills as an erudite but affable raconteur. Green takes you to the wedding banquet of Menelaus and Helen in Sparta where the goddess of discord Eris first presented an apple of discord, to Paris of Troy happily living with Oenone, a mountain nymph, on Mount Ida, to the Greek Camp outside the Wall of Troy where Agamemnon and Achilles were having a row over their beautiful Trojan female captives, and to Odysseus’s 10-year journey back home in Ithaca. The tale of Troy regenerates more stories about the fates of the characters following the end of the epic war, which leads to the dawn of the Iron Age, the Age of Man, in which we live. The Tale of Troy is a literary equivalent of Matryoshka, a frame story that presents manifold stories that delight you with pleasant surprises.

The great Roman poet Horace once said it’s harder to treat a story in your own way. In fact, to retell a story is harder than to create one from void because it requires a special ability with the aid of natural wit to make the original source texts adapt to the contemporary readership of the time the author belongs to. To that effect, this book is a magical casement of the misty past told by a Homeric storyteller of our modern time who will take you to where the ancient ocean sends forth the breeze of the shrill Aegean Sea to let you sail an imaginary voyage with the Greek Kings and the Trojan refugees, while the Olympian gods are watching you from Mount Olympus.

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