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Jane-Anne Shaw, MA "Classical studies PhD student" (Scotland)

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The Places In Between
The Places In Between
Price: £4.49

5.0 out of 5 stars A place apart ..., 22 Nov. 2014
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Sir David Attenborough rates Rory Stewart; I can understand why.
This book works on so many levels, not least because Stewart's writing style is so straightforward. It is a travelogue, a diary of thoughts and a wide-ranging document for historians.
Afghanistan is a country which has been cast as 'the enemy' since the era of the Great Game, but this is the first account I've read which dispassionately looks at its problems from the inside out. Walking solo, from Herat to Kabul, through northern central Afghanistan in the winter of 2002, Stewart tramped through thigh-high snow, seeking shelter at night from village headmen and sleeping in guest houses. What jumps out at the reader is RS's in-depth knowledge of the region and his grasp of tribal loyalties and divisions, and how poverty is often allied with geography and history.
It was no easy trip. Illness was pretty well constant, and food and warmth were not always available, plus there was, and still is, an understandable suspicion of westerners. Bureaucracy and gun-toting companions apart, the thread that runs through the whole journey is Stewart's acute observations on both past and future. Although there is little or no direct comment on political issues, the narrative speaks for itself.
On the loss of the archaeology of the Minaret of Jam, high in the Afghan mountains, Stewart writes:
"It rose 200 feet, 61 metres, in a slim column of intricately carved terracotta set with a line of turquoise tiles. There was nothing else. The mountain walls formed a tight circle around it and at its base two rivers, descending from snowy passes, ran through the ravines into wilderness. [...] Although the people that lived in the area had never talked of the tower and none of the 19th-century travellers had known of its existence, a foreigner did reach it in 1957. André Maricq's careful study confirmed that this had been the tallest minaret in the world at the time of its construction."
By the time Stewart came upon the tower, much of Afghanistan's cultural heritage had been removed or destroyed, the Kabul museum looted and the Bamiyan Buddhas dynamited by the Taliban.
The episode is a reminder of how much has been lost ~ not just in Afghanistan but in all the wars of recent years.
But RS's relationship with a dog serves as a counterpoint to doom and gloom. Named after the Mughal Babur, whose writings run like a 'leitmotif' through the narrative, Babur the canine companion heroically made it through the snow and ice to Kabul, his dogged spirit reflecting that of Rory Stewart himself.

The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters
The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters
by Adam Nicolson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars POET OF AN (ALMOST LOST) AGE, 6 Sept. 2014
I have to confess, I loved this book. But, then, I would: students of Greek Classical studies are prejudiced! However, 'The Mighty Dead' is not an academic tome; it's written in an easy flowing accessible style that belies its deep and wide-ranging scholarship.

The era of Homer's Iliad was the Bronze Age - but there are a series of archaeological event horizons at Troy which date from around 2200BC to 1180BC. There is an age-old division between archaeologists and the ancient texts - being a science, archaeology doesn't hold with aery-faery myth. I tend to imagine the Trojan War as ca. 1450-1380BC. Does it really matter? The Iliad creates its own world.
Nonetheless, there have been discoveries to confirm Homer's Iliad and Odyssey - not least relevant dates for the burning of Troy, the palace of Nestor at 'sandy Pylos' and the Cretan palace of Knossos, (its labyrinthine architecture possibly constructed to take advantage of the winds in the incandescent heat of a southern Mediterranean summer.)
Nicolson's 'take' on Homer is muscular. In the main, the quest in 'The Mighty Dead' was not about finding 'how like us' the ancient Greeks were, in their thinking, practices and beliefs, but how very different. And, as he points out, Odysseus's voyage home to Ithaka, like Jason's to the Black Sea, has been the subject of much speculation - some of it realistic, based on knowledge of ancient seafaring and the construction of galleys, but many other latter-day theories are specious fantasies.

Poetry, for us, is an art form where language is employed for aesthetic purposes as well as semantics. For the ancient Greeks, ποίησις (poiesis) was a 'making' or 'creating.' Homer's words are original, yet come from a supernatural teacher, the breath he inhaled from the Muse. However, epic poetry was also formulaic - confined to the prescription of the hexameter, with many repetitions. Gods, goddesses and heroes all had their traditional epithets attached - 'grey-eyed Athene,' 'wily Odysseus,' 'god-like Achilles.' All these had to fit into the pattern. In addition, as Nicolson says, there are similar stories or myths peculiar to their own locales and yet which occur elsewhere, in seemingly unconnected locations.

Nicolson favours the English translations of Robert Fagles. I prefer Richmond Lattimore's versions - but this is personal taste. There are a few errors in the book, which I put down to editors or printers. A caption for one of the colour plates is out of sync - the Cyclopean walls of Tiryns appear opposite p.107, the caption opp. p.186, but this is a publishing error. Like the random typos, it should be picked up and corrected if the volume goes to another edition.
There are thirty-two pages of comprehensive notes, chapter by chapter, plus a informative bibliography for reference or further reading, listed by subject headers or themes.

This is my Book of the Year, 2014. It reminds of the C.P. Cafavy poem, 'As you set out for Ithaka / hope the voyage is a long one, / full of adventure, full of discovery ...'
Overall, a valuable contribution to the vast library of Homer studies, as well as a compilation of life experiences, history, the Odyssey, the Iliad, travelogue and musings on 'Why Homer Matters.'
Because he does.

Hole Punch, 1 pc
Hole Punch, 1 pc
Offered by Relyonus Stationery Supplies
Price: £7.95

4.0 out of 5 stars For punching holes x 4 ..., 2 Aug. 2014
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This review is from: Hole Punch, 1 pc
Very fast delivery, no problems; p&p f.o.c., and well-packaged. I haven't used the punch yet ~ have to sort out files of papers first!
I'll post opinion if it doesn't do what it says it does. Should be OK. ...

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4.0 out of 5 stars Saves time, 5 July 2014
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Bought to download satnav data straight to the device. Seems to work (although haven't as yet tried it out, to see if the download is accurate, i.e., works from home to where I want to go). No problem with basic tech, straightforward driver installed. An increasing number of sites provide satnav installations, and the USB cable was inexpensive, so I purchased it to link PC or laptop to the Nuvi and save myself the often frustrating process of entering info direct to device, etc.

Jason and the Argonauts Through the Ages
Jason and the Argonauts Through the Ages
by Jason Colavito
Edition: Paperback
Price: £35.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The age of myth, 16 May 2014
This is an extremely readable new paperback volume on an old myth. To examine, classify and rationalise the ancient figure of Jason (aka Iason - no ‘J’ in Classical Greek) Colavito has amassed a huge amount of material from the archaic Greek Mycenaean period down to our own era.
The further you go back in time, the more fragmentary and problematic the sources. The ancient Greek epics are mines of poetic imagination but they are very short on facts. Reading or research in the Classical field requires not only the ability to draw on and work with a variety of sources and fields of scholarship, but also to make sense of a multi-layered mixture of ancient evidence. Colavito has done so, ranging from literary texts to remains and artefacts, from epigraphy to art images, and modern manifestations of Jason, all well-referenced. Classics, history, anthropology and other disciplines assist and inform the reconstruction of who or what Jason might have been, while at the same time minimising the popular assumptions which reflect modern thinking rather than ancient ‘realities.’

Ancient Greece set itself in time by cultural reference to its mythical past, and the pre-Homeric myth of the voyage of the ‘Argo’ has been around for ca. 3000 years. Myths are held as attempts to explain the world, stories invented to validate or evoke the past. Shedding new light on aspects of any myth, and reconstructing attitudes, beliefs and practices in mythological material, are no easy tasks. The myths were a conglomerate of old and new, indigenous and imported, but their emphasis on the primary interests of ancient societies accounts for their continuity - although these aspects cannot be dated.
One salient facet of this book is that it’s about Jason and the Argonauts, not Medea. (You cannot excise her presence from the narrative, but she is such a gift to feminist academics she has been much examined and minutely written about elsewhere.) Colavito has sifted and ordered the details of ‘Argo’s voyage to Colchis, at the eastern end of the Euxine (Black) Sea. The Greeks named it ‘euxine,’ - hospitable - largely to disguise or magically avert its treacherous reputation. Much as they termed the Erinyes (Furies) the Eumenides, the ‘kindly ones,’ the sea was transformed from Axeinos Pontus, the ‘hostile sea’ to Euxeinos Pontus, the ‘welcoming sea’. This colonisation was probably ca. 1000BC, but even so the account of the voyage is likely much older. Iolcus (Iolkos) on the coast of Thessaly, from where the voyage began, was an important Mycenaean city: Homer calls it ‘well-known to all,’ and Hesiod mentions the marriage of Jason and Medea in the ‘Theogony.’

The tale itself is too long to précis but, basically, Jason, educated by the centaur Cheiron (as was Achilles) has been cheated of the throne of Iolcus by Pelias, who sends him on a mission to steal a famous golden fleece from Colchis. Of course, the voyage will be fatal - Pelias wants rid of this pretender to his throne. A son of Argos is commissioned to build the ship (hence ‘Argo’) and Jason calls on local men to sail with him. As the mythic tale gained in popularity, it became pan-Hellenic; famous Greek names were added to the ship’s complement, alongside Herakles and Orpheus.
They sail N/E through the Dardanelles - possible source for the episode of the Clashing Rocks - and fetch up in the land of Aietes, where the Greek hero kills the dragon which guards the fleece, and accomplishes a series of super-human tasks, including sowing dragon teeth from which spring up the Spartoí, the ‘sown men.’ The skeleton warriors featured in the 1963 film version of the myth were animator Harryhausen’s own invention (p.232).
Jason flees on the ‘Argo,’ together with Aietes’ daughter, Medea - the assorted traditions give them varied routes. To cut a long story very short, the couple end up in Corinth and Jason marries a ‘proper Greek wife.’ According to the Fifth century BC tragedian, Euripides, Medea, in a murderous rage, kills the children sired by Jason and decamps to Athens. Jason eventually dies when the rotting hull of ‘Argo’ falls on him.
The history is plainly an amalgam of different elements - as are many ancient myths - and Colavito has addressed these diverse traditions. The myth of Jason is a ‘hero quest,’ with all the usual components, but it also has aspects which are not of the standard cast. He’s not warlike, like Achilles, nor is he overtly heroic like Herakles. Colavito also makes much of an etymological link of ‘Iason’ to ‘iatros’ - doctor or healer. For the different colorations in the figure we can blame the embroideries of later bards, who were wont to elaborate oral tales in performance and, of course, once these were written down they were virtually made permanent.

The book deals first with the world of myth and the origins of Jason, and progresses systematically through development - god, hero, man - and the contexts of archetype, travelling hero and the occult aspects, e.g., a ‘katabasis’ (descent to Hades) and ‘Argo’ as a ship of the dead; Jason’s afterlife in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and modern times, scholars’ investigations and theories. Finally, the quirkily-titled ‘Jason in Outer Space,’ covers euhemerism - looking for explanations of the myth in historical occurrences. As Colavito says, this chapter examines "theories serious and silly, ideological and idiotic," astrology and weird and wonderful ‘mythic propaganda,’ including the perennial ‘lost Atlantis,’ which provides insight into all the ways "the past can be rewritten to support whatever beliefs one wishes it to confirm" (p.259).

‘Jason & the Argonauts through the Ages’ is a useful volume, illustrated with B&W line drawings, figures and photographs. Colavito has covered the literatures and histories of the myth, and the volume is well-annotated, together with a comprehensive bibliography and index. It is not a heavy read - Colavito is clear and lucid - albeit stylistically I would place it towards the academic end of the Classical Studies spectrum. This does not detract from it at all - it is not a specialist book, and I imagine it will be of use to students as well as any general reader interested in the myth of Jason and the Argonauts.

Lempriere's Classical Dictionary
Lempriere's Classical Dictionary
by John Lempriere
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Classical back-up, 30 April 2014
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This was ordered as a reference volume. Lemprière is a standard dictionary of the Classical world, but because of its age often cites ancient / authors & references as opposed to secondary or later scholarship.
To quote from the Wiki, "The Bibliotheca Classica' (Reading, November, 1788), or 'Classical Dictionary containing a full Account of all the Proper Names mentioned in Ancient Authors,' is the best-known work of John Lemprière, an English classical scholar. Edited by various later scholars, the dictionary long remained a readable if not absolutely trustworthy reference book in mythology and classical history. Lemprière wished "to give the most accurate and satisfactory account of all the proper names which occur in reading the Classics, and by a judicious collection of anecdotes and historical facts to draw a picture of ancient times, not less instructive than entertaining." [...]
Which says it all, really!
It is not 100% trustworthy, as pointed out. Nor is it a substitute for the huge magisterial Oxford Classical Dictionary, but for quick look-ups Lemprière's pounds lighter than the OCD, weight-wise.

Jean Paul Gaultier Classique Eau De Parfum Spray for Women 20ml
Jean Paul Gaultier Classique Eau De Parfum Spray for Women 20ml
Price: £25.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Bought as birthday present ..., 30 April 2014
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... for my daughter. I was concerned it wouldn't be the actual perfume, given a review on here, but the recipient says it *is* the perfume, so all OK. (As with many well-known brands, toilette waters aren't as strong.)

The Nature of Greek Myths (Pelican)
The Nature of Greek Myths (Pelican)
by G. S. Kirk
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars As described ..., 17 April 2014
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This is an old title (1974) purchased for reference purposes. The catch-all title conveys content exactly. Kirk is frequently cited in my current research, so it's useful to have the actual volume to hand. And it was available at only 1p, so what's not to like?!
The book deals with problems of definition, five of the most influential theories, Greek myths in literature, development of 'the hero,' myth as a production of the psyche, etc. As the title says, it's about the *nature* of myth ~ a study of how mythology gave way to philosophy, and it complements Kirk's earlier volume, 'Myth, its Meaning & Functions in Ancient and Other Cultures' (1970).
I would say, even so, this title, too, requires some background knowledge of ancient Greek society, religion and / or culture.
The cover art is misleading ~ a detail from the Victorian painter, G.F. Watts, 'The Minotaur.'
Book arrived quickly, well packaged, etc. Some pencil marks.

The Drowning Guard: A Novel of the Ottoman Empire
The Drowning Guard: A Novel of the Ottoman Empire
Price: £2.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Old history in a new guise?, 13 April 2014
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I downloaded this to the Kindle for strictly leisure reading but, aside from light cast on such as the 'Satanic verses' (suras of the Qu'ran possibly alluding to females, p. 373, etc., vel sim) and the already well-known history of the Janissaries, the book has little to recommend it - at least, to me.
The 'drowning guard' himself is a 'kapikulu' - neither slave nor free. A giant Serbian, taken from his home in a Balkan raid, the so-called system of devşirme, he has been a Janissary çorbaci (leader of an orta or battalion) but demoted, for various reasons, to being employed as personal executioner to an Ottoman princess. Set against the 1826 revolt and massacre of the Janissary corps, the novel is uneven and ultimately unsatisfactory. History's events are reduced to a personal conflict between Mahmud the Second and his half-sister, Esma Sultan - a woman said to have entertained an untold number of Christian lovers: young men subsequently drowned in the Bosphorus. The historical drama invokes Scheherazade as Esma decides to relate the tale of her life to her 'drowning guard,' by way of shared guilt.
Lafferty's authority for her background is loosely based on two pages of Lord Patrick Kinross (1977) The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire (London: Perennial). The burning of the Janissary barracks and thus the murder of more than 4000 men referred to as 'the Auspicious Incident.' (At the same time, June 1826, regular Ottoman soldiers attacked and destroyed the Janissary base in Thessaloniki, killing over 10,000; the last of them beheaded in 'the blood tower.')
The uncertainties of life under a capricious ruler are fairly well conveyed but, apart from didactic facts which can be ascertained, the narrative is not equal to its subject matter. Combining fact and fiction is a chancy exercise (the worst examples are referred to as 'laundry list' writing). Sorry - this one didn't quite come off. ...

The Book Thief
The Book Thief
Price: £3.66

5.0 out of 5 stars A story from the other side, 27 Mar. 2014
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This review is from: The Book Thief (Kindle Edition)
I tend to use my Kindle for leisure reading. 'The Book Thief' seemed different from the usual run of fiction (plus the film was on release about the same time). Death writes the narrative, stalking the German landscape during the Hitler war.
"I'm in most places at least once, and in 1943 I was just about everywhere."

This is NOT a depressing book - it's a story of kindness and hope and survival in spite of destruction. The big questions, i.e., slow starvation in a ruined Germany, the people transported to concentration camps, are almost sideways-on, but the contrast of shocking truths with the mundane lives of a small-town street has more effect. 'The Book Thief' has large themes, but they're never, ever, overt.
I hovered between four & 5 stars; 'like' is too tepid, so I gave it five.
Zusak took a risk with this book; not everyone will take to its style. However, it fits with the impact of war, and the little things we do, or possess, to fend off its depredations. Liesel, fostered by a poor German couple, grows up in the shadow of conflict.
The writing is unusual, e.g., colours distract Death as he works and, as he says on the final page, he's 'haunted by humans.'
I won't spoil the ending, but it's books which save Liesel - the ones she steals and the ones made for her.

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