Posted in book review

‘Leonardo and the Last Supper’ by Ross King

Leonardo and the Last Supper by Ross King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I still remember an excellent replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” in a tapestry form decorated on the wall of our family living room when I was in elementary school. It was vast and expansive, nonetheless magnificent with the profoundness of the scene and the expressions on the faces in it – all wondrous and curious. Now a stream of time has flown, but the first impression of the art still has become one of the stars in my heart’s constellation. “Leonardo and the Last Supper” by Ross King has added to the star the brilliance with telling stories resurrecting the atmosphere of the time and vividness of the people surrounding the creation and the creator of the art.

The book is an alluring admixture of the biography of Leonardo da Vinci and the history of religion, politics, society, and culture; all skillfully swirled in Ross’s skillful narrative account of the person of da Vinci and his work of the Last Supper. The narrative becomes more intriguing as the chapters replete with entertainingly informative tidbits about personal accounts of people related to da Vinci and involved in creating the Last Supper are ascending. The story’s construction follows how Samuel Johnson, the 18th-century English essayist and cultural critic, narrated the lives of poets in The Lives of the Poets, composed of a brief biography of a poet, personal accounts of the poet, and professional criticism of the works. The reader will first be acquainted with da Vinci’s biographic backgrounds: parents, a well-to-do lawyer father, and a middle eastern slave mother owned by his father’s household. Da Vinci’s struggle with spelling and even harder Latin education, his fabrication of engineering work experience in his curriculum vitae to obtain a military commissioned engineer post when coming to Milan from Tuscany, and so forth. All the information is a telltale factor contributing to da Vinci’s rise to celebrity in his and our times, which is refreshingly informative to learn that the perennial polymath also had feet of clay with colors of contrast.

Ross is a scholar with a novelist’s magic wand to wield his writing power, casting a spell on facts and knowledge with the beauty of language and ease of words, captivating readers of all life paths with gripping narrative skills. Another book of his “Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling,” which I enjoyed with great pleasure, is a helpful companion to this book because both Michelangelo and da Vinci were contemporaries, working under their aristocratic patronage the recalcitrant spirits of creative souls in reins of livelihood. It would also be an excellent reference to the social statuses of artists at that time. Contrary to our images of free-spirited artists, artists worked for their royal, ecclesiastical, and wealthy employers. Therefore, they were not free to choose subject matters for their works because their bosses wanted their power and fame to become works of art, as it were.

Upon closing the last page of Leonardo and the Last Supper, I reminded myself of Plato’s aesthetic definition. Art is a copy of Form, the perfect, pristine Beauty. It exists only in Idea because da Vinci was also a scientist and an engineer who found perfect beauty in perfect numerical and astronomical elements of nature. However, da Vinci’s Last Supper is filled with pathos, contrasts of human emotions, paradoxes of light and dark, good and evil, constantly changing, never-ending. Da Vinci was a humanist, finding beauty in nature as it is, regardless of perfect Form, the unattainable ideal that is out of touch. One thing right about Plato’s Aesthetics is that art is at best entertainment and at worst a dangerous illusion. That says it. Leonardo’s Last Supper is a soul’s entertainment, and so is Ross’s “Leonardo and the Last Supper.”



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Posted in book review

‘Howl’s Moving Castle’, by Diana Wynne Jones – review

Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle, #1)Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Whether it is for the pursuit of artistic aestheticism or indulgence in sheer egoism, writers tell their stories in books where, in the peculiar alchemy of words dipped in imagination, they blend the real with the ideal. That said, Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle is a beautiful world of magic and witcraft that cast a spell on the gloomy reality to make it a gorgeous fantasy.

A melancholy of vertiginous existential crisis in a life fraught with responsibilities and duties morphs into a fantastic narrative of the imaginary world where magic, wizards, witches, and demons mingle with ordinary people and even fall in love with them like those of Olympus gods with mortals until Hesiod’s Heroic Age. Sophie Hatter, the book’s heroine, is Jones’s alter ego, only younger in age and freer in status. Still, everything else about her is Jones herself, most prominently her being the eldest child responsible for all things adult – by alas, birthright. Sophie’s self-analysis of being the oldest for the principal cause of misfortune applies to Jones’s family background, being the oldest of three sisters just as Sophie is for Martha and Lattie. I remember reading elsewhere that at the time of writing this book, Jones was going through the crisis in adulthood: a sickly husband, live-in mother-in-law, friends in need, children to take care of, etc. Despite Jones’s degree in English Literature from Oxford University, she felt injustice for her talent and mind eroding in the seemingly endless Sisyphean maneuvering of rolling up a daily boulder. So she took a pen to paper and wrote the book to spur her reservoir of existential frustrations on writing her story in the guise of fiction.

However, after the book’s success, Jones withstood from telling it a reflection of her inner world. She referred it to a certain boy who wanted to create a moving castle. Although the integrity of the inspiration belongs to the author’s literary license, Jones appeared to be reluctant to admit that she told her story in the book due to her celebrity. On a personal note, I could understand her volition to employ a more lovely pretext in safely hiding her existential frustration in privacy. Still, the book’s background written at the time of a crisis of adulthood puts together tesserae in a fanciful puzzler. The agency of magical elements in the story enables Jones to free herself from the mental inhibitions to depict the world’s realism, which seems too dreary and drab, gloomy and harsh, for the reader to be burdened with the author’s frustrations. Instead, Jones created the world populated with witches and wizards not looking like creepy worshippers of the devil and a fire demon far from being diabolic. All the menageries of wondrous characters neutralize the pathos of Sophie.

I read the book with a kindred spirit of being the firstborn child in the family, so it was a pleasure to know that I was not the only person who felt burdened with family and others’ cares. Witch of Waste’s turning Sophie into a ninety-year-old spinster adumbrates Jones’ feeling of oldness in her soul that affects her appearance due to her continuously solitary labor of care. Yet, Jones is kind to Sophie with the eccentric but wonderful Howl and other helpful characters, including Calcifer, a fire demon, all of whom recognize Sophie’s worth and beauty of heart with respect and care that she deserves so much. Jones does a fabulous job of transforming a vehement narrative of angst as an adult in the real-world into a fairytale of love and luck, where those who feel burdened with the weight of life will be awarded fabulous surprise long overdue.



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Posted in Poetry

aeolian whisper

Road in a beautiful forest in the morning

Into the Alpine Path

so winding, so unknown,

A breeze brings mirth

With aeolian melodies

In whispering pianissimo

thru the leaves of the trees

And transfixes the flows

Of time and beauty of youth

Wantoning freely in ecstasy

Sparkling like new hope.

Posted in 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.

Posted in book review

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.