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Jan Dierckx (Belgium, Turnhout)

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Of Counselors and Kings: The Three Versions of Pierre Salmon's Dialogues (Illinois medieval studies)
Of Counselors and Kings: The Three Versions of Pierre Salmon's Dialogues (Illinois medieval studies)
by Anne D. Hedeman
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Manuscript., 2 May 2010
The three versions - the first was written in 1409 - of Pierre Salmon's 'Dialogues' ( here called 'Of Counselors and Kings') were written in a time of political instability and papal schism ( Avignon against Rome ). To help overcome these problems was the reason that the Dialogues were written. One could think of 'Il Principe' by Machiavel but Salmon's book lacks the iron logic and cynicism of 'Il Principe'.

This book contains eight color plates of very beautiful illuminations that were used in the manuscript and nineteen black and white pictures of other miniatures and illuminated initials. The introduction is fourteen pages, the translation of the text ( medieval French and written by Pierre Salmon ) and the conclusion have sixty pages. The rest of the edition (in total 123 pp.) consists of the illustrations, appendixes, a catalogue of manuscripts, an extensive notes section, and an index. The original French text is not included.

Hedeman shows how Salmon manipulated artistic style and iconography to construct a visual narrative that often was quite independent of its text. She also suggests how changes to the images in a French copy (ca. 1500) signal efforts to appropriate Salmon's stature as a trusted royal advisor for later political purposes. This is an important argument for the importance of the 'Dialogues' in the Middle Ages.

Selections from the Canzoniere and Other Works (Oxford World's Classics)
Selections from the Canzoniere and Other Works (Oxford World's Classics)
by F. Petrarch
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The start of a new kind of Life., 4 April 2010
The influence by Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374) on the poetry of Italy and the rest of western Europe was remarkable. But as important as his italian poems were his letters and essays. These writings discussed a way of life and thinking that formed the basis of Humanism (where - in short - the emphasis is on human accomplishments and not on God).

As a writer of letters (mainly his correspondence with friends and colleagues) he wrote in the style and used the accomplished tradition of classic writers such as Cicero and Seneca. But in-spite the influence of this tradition Petrarca's letters are very personal and authentic.
In a vivid way these letters describe the author and his surroundings. He writes about the many travels he made and his interest in Antiquity.

One of the most important documents by his hand is his description of him walking up the Mount Ventoux and the description of the thoughts he had during that long walk are one of the most important building stones of the Italian Renaissance, the start of a new kind of life.

Greek Myths
Greek Myths
by Robert Graves
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Greek Mythology: Fact or Fiction?, 4 April 2010
This review is from: Greek Myths (Paperback)
Like no one before him Robert Graves is able to tell the Greek legends about gods and heroes for modern readers. In 'Greek Mythology' he proofs that by his outstanding way of telling stories and by his impressive knowledge of Greek mythology he can capture the imagination of contemporary readers.

Greek myths didn't form a logical and metaphysical unit like the Bible does. Many variants of the same mythological story existed in the Mediterranean world.
The main text constantly refers to an extensive list of notes, comments, and mythology sources after each story. At the same time Robert Graves gives one ore more interpretations - or variants - of the same story. Mostly more than one interpretation of the myth because from one story there were many variants depending the region in Greece where the story was told.

In his introduction he gives a very interesting account about early societies who created the main body of mythological stories. In the beginning those societies were matriarchal (see Demeter and her daughter Persephone). Many myths can only be explained by using elements from those matriarchal - and later on patriarchal, see Zeus and his father Chronos - societies. In a very captivating way Robert Graves explain the change from a matriarchal society into a patriarchal society.
Many myths tell in some kind of a literary code - for instance the birth of Athena (goddess of Wisdom): she rises out of the head of Zeus! - the change from matriarchy into patriarchy.

Robert Graves's main literary source is the so-called 'Apollodori Bibliotheca' (Library of Apollodorus). It was compiled in the first century AD and was the first attempt to unify Greek mythology. It's the only work of his kind to survive from classical Antiquity. The Library of Apollodorus is a unique guide to Greek mythology, from the origin of the Universe to the Trojan war.

The Infinities
The Infinities
by John Banville
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Father., 15 Mar. 2010
This review is from: The Infinities (Hardcover)
The novel is set in an old mansion in the country side. Mr. Adam, the old man, compared with Zeus the primordial lover, is dying and wishes to spend his last days in the mansion instead of the hospital. His family is also present. But not only the family, some of the ancient gods - like Zeus the Father and Lover, and Hermes the Guide to the World of the Dead - are there also. The gods watch the humans and comment on what they say and do.

This blend of modern and ancient personages gives the novel its universal and timeless meaning: the battle between young and old and Love as a substitute for immortality.
During their stay at the mansion they are questioning themselves and the others. They experience their surroundings in different ways, depending on their vantage point. Past and present become intertwined.

'The Infinities' by John Banville is a rich and complex novel.

Greek Orators: Apollodorus Against Nearia v. 6 (Classical Texts)
Greek Orators: Apollodorus Against Nearia v. 6 (Classical Texts)
by Christopher Carey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gossip., 11 Mar. 2010
In Antiquity the oration 'Against Neaira' was a part of the collected works by Demosthenes. And yet, already in those days, they knew that the speech wasn't written by Demosthenes but by his contemporary Apollodorus. (They probably attributed it to Demosthenes because Apollodoros was a rather unknown author).

Neaira and Stephanos were married. This marriage was invalid because Neaira wasn't born in Athens. With this speech by Apollodorus ("Demosthenes") he tried to discredit Neaira. This oration has not the brilliance and genius of the orations by Demosthenes. The structure is careless and has many lose ends and many elaborations.

But despite of all this we should be glad that 'Against Neaira' has survived time. It has a great historical value and also because it's a fascinating and picturesque description of the manners and customs in ancient Greece.

The Confessions of St. Augustine
The Confessions of St. Augustine
by Saint Augustine
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.31

5.0 out of 5 stars The Father of Modern Theology., 10 Mar. 2010
Aurelius Augustinus 354-430 AD.
He was born in Thagesta in Numidia (North-Africa).The Confessions' has two parts. The first part is a kind of autobiography and the second part is a commentary to the first chapters of Genesis.
He taught rhetorics first in Carthago in Africa, later in Milan in Italy. But after a while he developed an aversion not only for rhetorics ( he began to consider it as useless and conceited and as a pool of sins ) but also for his fellow-man.
He began to show neurotic behaviour like having a fainting fit without apparent cause. It's for those reasons that psychologists like to study Augustine's Confessions.
As a result of his problems, Augustine became a Christian and he was one of the first to found a monastery. Later on he became bishop of Hippo in North-Africa.

In the second part of 'The confessions', he tries to explain the first chapters of Genesis. ( This second part is very impressive and is the cause that "The Confessions" is in my personal top five of the best books I read during the last 30 years.)

His plan was to comment on the whole Bible but he soon understood that this was an impossible task for one man.
Nevertheless he's is considered as the Father of modern Theology because of his comments.
To give two examples: When the Bible says that God created man to His image, Augustine explains that it means that man knows the difference between good and evil just like God does, it doesn't mean a physical resemblance.
Another interesting thought is about Creation. Creation is not limited in space and time: since God is everywhere, Creation is also everywhere and goes on till eternity.

As conclusion I should mention that 'The Confessions'is also important because it is the first publication in Antiquity in which an author reveals his most inner feelings.

Without Blood
Without Blood
by Alessandro Baricco
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Human Nature., 10 Mar. 2010
This review is from: Without Blood (Paperback)
Alessandro Baricco is not only an author but also a musician and an actor. He won several literary prices like the Premio Viareggio and the 'Prix Médicis étranger'.

A man and his two children live on a outlying farm. The father is a doctor and since the end of the last war (in an imaginary country) he's known as 'The Torturer'.

One day four men arrive at the farm to kill the doctor and his children as a revenge. Nina-the youngest daughter-hides herself in the basement. Tito-the youngest of the revengers and a mere child-comes after her but he doesn't kill her. They look each other in the eye and a fatal attraction arises between the two.

Many years later-they are old people now-they meet each other on the street of a town and they decide to have a drink in one of the cafés.

This is mainly a novel about attraction and repulsion between a man and a woman. They wage war between them, not with weapons but with words.

The Returners
The Returners
by Gemma Malley
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunted By The Past., 24 Feb. 2010
This review is from: The Returners (Hardcover)
Will, a fifteen-year-old boy, lives with his father who is a lawyer with political interests. The story is set in 2016 and there are a few flashbacks to 2008. In that year his mother committed suicide.

Will is a loner. Around the age of ten there was Claire, one of his neighbors. They got along very well. During the nighttime - when his father is asleep and Claire gives a signal with her flashlight - Will visits Claire by climbing up a tree that stands close to the window of her bedroom. They listen to music and play video games. It's the only friendship he knows but it won't last. When he starts talking about his psychological problems, Claire is somewhat freaked out and she refuses to see him.

As Will grows older he begins to think that he's paranoid. All kinds of people approach him telling the boy he's is one of 'them' and that he should 'return'. Will is afraid of losing his mind because he thinks that the encounters with these people are hallucinations. One evening he thinks he sees Claire in the garden, but she becomes another person he doesn't recognize. Is this reality or a hallucination?

He can't remember the people who are following him, at least not at first. And when he does, he doesn't like what he remembers.
Will discovers that he has a past far deeper then most and the struggle to break free of the powerful hold that history has on him may well become a struggle for death over life...

Tree of Smoke
Tree of Smoke
by Denis Johnson
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars War and Peace., 2 Dec. 2009
This review is from: Tree of Smoke (Paperback)
This book has a few things in common with 'War and Peace' by Tolstoy. Just like Napoleon in Moscow, American soldiers - tired of the war - had to leave Saigon. Just like Tolstoy who described Russian society, Denis Johnson gives a panoramic view of both South and North Vietnam. 'Tree of Smoke' takes several moments of the vietnam conflict with different characters mostly unrelated to each other (there are exceptions). This technique allows to get an overview and a kaleidoscopic image of Vietnam.

Very few encounters with the Vietcong are described (so don't expect a run-of-the-mill war novel). The characters of this book work behind the scenes. They are Americans, Vietnamese, French, British, and Chinese. They rank from messenger boys to CIA officials and generals.

There are three characters who are the common thread through this novel. William "Skip" Sands, CIA, engaged in Psychological Operations and the disaster that befalls him. There is also the story of the Houston Brothers, Bill and James, young men who drift out of the Arizona desert and into the war where the line between disinformation and delusion has blurred away. In its vision of human folly, this is a story like nothing in American literature.

This novel is a very rich and powerful portrait of Vietnam and the people who were trying to make the best of their lives.

The Humbling
The Humbling
by Philip Roth
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Crisis., 1 Dec. 2009
This review is from: The Humbling (Hardcover)
The German novelist Heinrich Bohl once wrote that art is either overpaid or underpaid.
Axler, a stage actor in his sixties, has lost his 'magic'. He lost his self-confidence and self-esteem and probably thinks he's overpaid because others, who earn less, are so more talented than he is (hence the title 'The Humbling'). Off stage, in the real world, he also lost the power to listen to others and lost the ability to inspire them.

For mysterious reasons he has the feeling that he's performing his own life on stage. His very existence has become a play in which he's the key player. A player who wanted to die while on stage he wanted to live. When his wife left him he made a suicide attempt and became a patient in a psychiatric hospital.

Several months later, after his release from the hospital, he meets a friend from way back and he invites her in his house. She cooks a meal and he feels happy again for the first time since he quit acting.
It's this relationship that will decide whether Axler will perform on stage again which means also to participate in real life again.

In this novel life on stage and real life have often the same meaning: give oneself to others.

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