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live to tell

I just read an article from the January 2021 issue of BBC History about a British family’s real-life experience in China during the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 60s. It was so engrossing a read that prompted me to put pen to paper.

Kim Gordon’s live-to-tell childhood memories during the turbulent times in the country where he and his parents had believed to be a model communist haven as accounted in his diaries and letters put it on the same pedestal with Louise Malle’s Au Revoir Les Enfants and Anne Frank’s Diaries in the context of regarding political turbulences through the eyes of the tender age and the lasting impacts on the minds of the young.

Gordon’s writings are a prime example of historical records, which George Orwell called a reason to write in his “Why I Write.” In fact, reading Gordon’s account of his memories of forceful detainment in Peking gives me an association with reading one of Orwell’s war correspondence and his first-hand experience as a voluntary tramp in London to report the reality of homelessness and unemployment.

I think his writings deserve far higher recognition and broader readership in the publication of a memoir, for which I will read forthwith.

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‘Forgotten Peoples of the Ancient World’, by Philip Matyszak

Forgotten Peoples of the Ancient World by Philip Matyszak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Forty years on our evolutionary scale amounts to a microsecond on our twenty-four biological clock. The millennium years, even Before Christ, feel so alienly anachronistic from our modern sensibility. The sense of time builds upon a fundamental element of consciousness as molded into a collective emotional experience as contemporary citizens of the world, just as the peoples of the misty pasts we tend to overlook felt the same for the civilizations before them. They were the titans of the pre-ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultures. They, like the evening sun in its full declination, vanished in the hazy horizons of the time, still dazzling with its scarlet hues of radiating halo lingering on the remnants of human civilization to this date.

Forgotten peoples of the Ancient World is an anthology of the peoples whose feeling of permanence and importance in their time of the world betrayed their fates buried in the tires of cities beneath the earth and returned to the dust in the winds. To illustrate, Akkadians were the first builders of the empire who elevated the Akkadian language to the cultural and political lingua franca of the late Bronze Age. The Hyksos were outstanding charioteers, and their military prowess benefitted their Egyptian subjects. The Bactrian culture was a delightful mixture of Greek and Indian heritages, while the Vandals gave a final, fatal blow to the already destabilized Roman Empire. These peoples affected the celebrity civilizations we are automatically associated with the ancient civilizations. As to why the forgotten peoples became peripheral in our realm of ancient history, it is a question of the immanence of the supreme being in the universe. However, what is certain is that they were the torch-bearers of the first civilizations passing the torch of society they had ignited and encouraged to the next in a relay run of collective humanity.

The book is an excellent anthology of these ancient peoples in chronological order from east to west, showing how civilizations expanded from the cradle across the plains, mountains, deserts, and seas to the Isles of Britons. Divided into the eras marking the epochal changes of history, Matyszak succinctly elucidates the peoples of the misty past with his trademark witty ways of describing historical contexts. Moreover, the exciting historical trivia resurrects the eras in a phantasmagorical display of faces and places.

To conclude, the stories about the forgotten peoples attest to the objectivity of truth applicable to any time of history that that which is here was there, has been, and will be. All things must pass, and there is nothing new under the sun. Our sense of time and culture is a likeness of truth, a matrix-like reality, because our facility is rather instinctive than reasoning, rather physical than metaphysical. Who would have known that people 100 years later now would think our time and us in this time anachronistic and antediluvian? Herodotus felt the same when he arrived in Egypt and saw the wondrous pyramids in awe that the people before his generations had built. So did the Babylonian king, who dug and discovered artifacts from centuries ago. We have seen the hungry ocean gain advantage of the kingdom of the shore, and the firm soil win of the watery main, increase with loss and loss with increase. The forgotten peoples and we are time’s subjects, and time bids are gone.



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‘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, Miscellany

Magical windows of the misty past

The story of man and beast decorates the wondrous latticework of the enchanting casement of Greek mythology. The ancient Greek weavers of stories used their poetic license to mirror the human traits, both attractive and unattractive, through the figures of the beast in scintillating ways. The resultant mythology created an aura of mysteriousness wonderfully anchored in reality whose thematics were originated in, such as the following tales from Greek mythology that reflect the nature of humankind as mirrored in the perspectives on the natural elements of animals and the relations to it.

Cretan_Bull
The Cretan Bull

  • The Cretan Bull and the Minotaur 

The story of a half-bull and half-man monster known as the Minotaur epitomizes the primordial thematic perspectives of mankind juxtaposed along with the law of nature representing the mysterious force. It became a subject of belief tradition peculiar to its natural and cultural environs. The conflicting sentiments of reverence toward the awe-inspiring nature’s creatures and the ambition for domineering them as the ruler of the universe give birth to the bestial creature in the figure of the terrific Minotaur who was fated to be slain by the Athenian hero Theseus. 

minotaur
The Minotaur

King Minos betrayed Poseidon by keeping his beautiful snow-white Bull, instead of sacrificing it to the expectant god, who, in turn, made his wife Pasiphae unquenchably infatuated with the Bull. She copulated with the beast by taking herself into the form of a hollow wooden cow designed by the Athenian architect named Daedalus. The result was the Minotaur kept in a Labyrinth by the selfsame designer of the wooden cow. The Minotaur showed no human feelings or emotions as the mythology did not treat him any more than a horrible bestial creature from the unnatural union of a woman and a beast. 

A Bull in the ancient Greek culture was a chthonic animal associated with fertility and vegetation and also represented the sun and the might. In fact, the famous figure and paintings of bull-leaping are seen inside of the Minoan mausoleum in Knossos as first discovered by the eminent English archeologists Arthur Evans, who also found Linear A and B letters, the mother of the ancient Greek language, at the turn of the 20th century, 

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Argos finally uniting with Odyssey.

  • The dog – the best friend of mankind

The perspective on the dog as the loyal canine companion collapses the millenniums between the ancient Greek’s time and ours. Even the Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog of the Hades look tamable with a piece of sweet cake, making it look less of a menacing beast necessitating the blood and flesh of man. This goes without saying that it was Argos, the paragon of the faithful canine, who recognized his travel-weary employer Odyssey after 20 years of absence from home and put forth what might think he had to approach him with a wagging tail. He died as his long-waited boss in incognito passed by him with his heart pounded by a surge of pathos dubbed in warmth. Of all the gods, goddesses, heroes, and even his family, it was Argos who showed genuine, artless unconditional affection to Odyssey and thus rendered his heroic owner all the more humane and sympathetic. 

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Laelaps, the dog that never fails to catch

Speaking of loyalty, Laelaps, a Greek mythological dog that never failed to catch what it was hunting, also denotes how the ancient Greeks perceived the dog as their life companions. Laelaps was initially a gift to Europa from Zeus, then bequeathed to Minos, who gave it to his concubine Procris whose sister included Pandora. She gave the hound to her husband Cephalus as a token of her unbroken love for him Cephalus used the hound for hunting the Teumessian Fox that could never be caught. Then Zeus turned both of the animals into the stars as the constellations Canis Major (the dog) and Canis Minor (the fox).

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The Eternal Catch-Me-If-You-Can between Canis Major (the Dog) and Canis Minor (the Fox)

Consequently, the use of the animals above in the thematic context in the Greek mythology evinces that mankind cannot exist alone as part of nature. Man finds his meaning of what it means to be a human and its purpose in life by rendering the values and precepts of natural law emblazoned in the human consciousness to the meta figures of the mythology. The mythological animals, whether wild, imaginary, or ordinary, are the reflection of the human traits interbred with imaginary creatures from the Elysium of Fancy. It became the substratum of a belief tradition administering to the modes of social behaviors in society, and thus developed into an organized religion by way of syncretism in the era of Christianity. 

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‘A Journal of the Plague Year’, by Daniel Defoe – review

A Journal of the Plague YearA Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The biblical cyclicity of history proclaims that what is happening now happened before because there’s no new thing under the sun. As I agree with the cyclical history theory, I prefer stories that confirm the continuity of human nature, which results in this felicitous book I came across on the Kindle store. The precedent epidemic scares and the response to them in Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, a classic 1722 account of the Black Death that devastated England from 1664 to 1665, do not read no less different than ours. Defoe’s recounting of the plague successfully resurrects the spirit of the epoch as his narrator guides the reader to the places and scenes of the seismic event in the capacity of a charitable and knowledgeable guardian of posterity, making them surprisingly familiar with ours.

It is a literary eye-witness account of what happened during the resurgence of the bubonic plague that had ravaged Europe hundreds of years earlier in the semblance of a nonfiction narrative. Even though Defoe was only five years old when the plague swept England, his fictional narrator feels very real and the account telltale as though it had been written it in the spirit of Veni Vidi Vici. So much so that the story seems more veritable than the counterpart of Samuel Pepys, whose narrative feels comparatively prosaic without the personal charm of the narrator. The reader will also learn that the 17th-century modus operandi of dealing with a pandemic is not that far from the current 21st-century preventive measures of social distancing, personal hygienic disciplines, and other relevant systematic societal restrictions.

Defoe holds up a mirror to his posterity that shows what it was like during the epidemic scare and what the people from days of yore did to sail through such calamity as a wise and warm advisor to our current global pandemic situations. In fact, while I was reading the book, I was surprised by how similar the cautious measures decreed by the authority were then to our own now. In my opinion, this book replaces Boccaccio’s The Decameron as a must-read during the pandemic, because of its power of reality drawn on empirical oral accounts so close to the lives of the ordinary folk that we can relate to our own time.

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