Sunday 30 March 2014

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

First Edition Dust Jacket
source Wikipedia
"This is the story of an adventure that happened in Narnia and Calormen and the lands between, in the Golden Age when Peter was High King in Narnia and his brother and his two sisters were King and Queens under him."

The Horse and His Boy, the fifth Narnian adventure, is set outside of Narnia in a land far to the south called Calormen.  Appearing to be modeled after an eastern land, Calormen is inhabited by dark-skinned people who are traders, merchants and lords, all living under their ruler, the great Tisroc, a descendant of the god Tash.   Shasta, a fair-skinned boy lives with his “father”, a Calormen fisherman, but when a great lord arrives and attempts to purchase the boy, he escapes on the lord’s horse, a talking Narnian horse named Bree.  In their flight they are joined by Aravis, a young Calormen girl escaping on another Narnian horse, Hwin, as she attempts to avoid a distasteful arranged marriage.  Together they learn of the plans of Tisroc’s son, Rabadash to invade Archenland, a kingdom friendly to Narnia, and have to use all their skill and wits to avert a disaster and to find Shasta’s true heritage.

Elements of The Arabian Nights permeate this story.  Calormen is reminiscent of an Arabian city, and the people are perceptive, knowledgeable, wealthy and courteous, yet a ruthlessness runs through their ancient blood.  They are also respected storytellers, able to weave elaborately fabulous tales.

From another viewpoint, the storyline could be compared to a Shakespearean drama.  Lost or mistaken identity are favourite devices of the Bard, and Shasta's situation fits just this scenario:  a boy who has been taken from his parents, discovers he does not belong within the culture where he lives, and sets out to find out his true heritage.

And finally, a prophecy is given at the beginning of Cor's (Shasta's) life, that he will one day save Archenland from a terrible catastrophe.  This prophecy is reminiscent of the Greek story of Oedipus told by Sophocles: a prophecy is given at his birth as well and, as in the case of Cor, every attempt to prevent the prophecy, only causes its fulfilment.

Tashbaan by Pauline Baynes (1953)

Instead of Aslan appearing outright to the children as in other stories and directly affecting the adventure, in The Horse and His Boy, he is presented as a shadowy presence that hovers at the edge of the adventure.  Finally he does intervene but the book makes it very clear that his actions are still behind the story not driving it.  When Aravis remarks that it is "luck" that she was not more seriously wounded by the Lion, the hermit replies, "…. I have never met any such thing as luck"; instead of fortune, it is Aslan or Providence that is helping them on.  As Shasta so wisely remarks, " ……. Aslan (he seems to be at the back of all stories) ….."

I believe there is also some "reverse-theology" incorporated into the making of the characters of Shasta and Aravis.  Aravis is strong and courageous; she is adept on a horse, knows her mind, and often mocks or secretly despises some of the tentativeness or perceived weakness shown by Shasta.  Yet, at the climax of the story, it is Shasta who shows unexpected bravery and is ultimately trusted with the task of saving Archenland from the troops of Rabadash.  Aravis is forced to admit her pride, which she does most willingly:  "There's something I've got to say at once.  I'm sorry I've been such a pig.  But I did change [her opinion of him] before you were a Prince, honestly I did: when you went back, and faced the Lion," echoing the biblical maxim, "for those who exalt themselves shall be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

The Magician's Nephew is up next.  It used to be my least favourite chronicle but we'll see if the years have changed my mind!

C.S. Lewis Project 2014

Other Narnia Books

Friday 28 March 2014

The Odyssey Read-Along Book XXIII & XXIV (the end!)

The Odyssey Read-Along @ Plethora of Books


Eurykleia announces to Penelope of her husband’s return, yet Penelope calls her crazy and laments that she is torturing her.  Eurykleia claims she is speaking the truth; Penelope believes, then does not believe her again.  When she descends and sees Odysseus, she produces the same pattern of vacillating feelings, until Odysses produces knowledge of the construction of their bed, the frame built around an olive tree, and her resistance crumbles as she throws herself into his arms.  She confesses that she had always been afraid of tricks from the suitors and that was the reason she felt it necessary to always keep her guard up.  They go to bed, make love, then afterwards fall into conversation, as Odysseus tells her of the prophecy of Teiresias and of the stories of his voyage home.  Waking in the morning, he informs her that he is going to visit his father on his estate, but he is also concerned that a rumour of the death of the suitors may have spread and instructs her to stay in her upper chamber.  He leaves with Telemachos, the swine and oxherd, and as they leave the city, Athene covers them in darkness.


What a lovely reunion between Odysseus and his wife!  Although she oscillates between disbelief and belief, I think her reaction is sincere; she truly has been afraid of tricks from the suitors, yet her dearest wish is for her husband to return home.  Her greatest wish and her greatest fear together vie for supremacy in her mind, and is it no wonder that she cannot reconcile her feelings and make a reasonable judgement?


Odysseus' plan for the murder of the suitors, again shows his wily reasoning.  He also had devised a plan if anyone questioned the noise coming from the palace:

“So I will tell you they way of it, how it seems best to me.  First, all go and wash, and put your tunics upon you, and tell the women in the palace to choose out their clothing.  Then let the inspired singer take his clear-sounding lyre, and give us the lead for festive dance, so that anyone who is outside, some one of the neighbours, or a person going along the street, who hears us, will think we are having a wedding.  Let no rumour go abroad in the town that the suitors have been murdered, until such time as we can make our way out to our estate with its many trees, and once there see what profitable plan the Olympians show us.”

Penelope & Euryclea
Angelica Kauffman 1772
source Wikimedia Commons


Hermes summons the souls of the suitors and “they followed, gibbering,” as he leads them to Hades.  There, a number of Greek heroes appear, including Achilles and Agamemnon.  Achilles laments that Agamemnon was cut down in the prime of his life and experienced a “death most pitiful”, when he could have died in the land of the Trojans.  Agememnon reciprocates with a narrative of the funeral of Achilles.  When they see the souls of the suitors, they are astounded, and Agamemnon questions Amphimedon, who appears to give an accurate accounting, but puts the blame on Penelope for her “planning out death and black destruction.”  He also criticizes Odysseus' treatment of them after their death.  Amusingly, after Amphimedon’s elaborately long story, Agamemnon only remarks on the wonderful loyalty of Penelope.  As this is happening, Odysseus and his company arrive at his estate and find his father in the orchard.  Odysseus ponders whether to announce himself outright, or “to make a trial of him and speak in words of mockery.”  He decides the latter.  Chiding his father for his ragged appearance, he then pretends that he has encountered Odysseus in another country, and offers another extravagant lie as to his history.  When his father begins to groan and lament, he finally reveals himself.  Laertes, like Penelope, is at first sceptical, whereupon Odysseus shows him his scar.  His father hugs him with joy but then expresses fear at repercussions that must come because of Odysseus' actions.  They go into the house where Laertes is bathed and anointed, then appearing like an immortal god; he laments he did not take part in the battle against the suitors with his son.  Meanwhile “rumour” is flying through the city and Eupeithes, the father of Antinoös calls for revenge, yet Medon says that Odysseus' conduct was with the approval of the gods, throwing fear into the assembly.  Halitherses reasons that the suitors' own actions brought on the terrible tragedy, bringing half the crowd to his side.  Athene asks Zeus for advice and he judges that Odysseus’ actions were proper, and that it is time for friendship and peace.  Athene flies down in the form of Mentor, as Odysseus sees men approaching the estate and cautions Telemachos not to “shame the blood of your fathers.”   Athene gives Laertes an uncommon strength and he is able to throw his spear right through the helmet of Eupeithes.  The parties fall to fighting until Athene stops them, calling for a cessation from “wearisome fighting” and claiming that “without blood, you can settle anything.”  Recognizing the goddess, the men flee towards the city.  Odysseus makes to follow, but Zeus throws down a thunderbolt and Athene commands him to stop the quarrelling.  So pledges were sworn on both sides, settled by Athene, and we can assume Odysseus lived and prospered until his death, as foretold by the prophecy of Teiresias.

Fame and Glory

The conversation between Achilles and Agamemnon were contrasting an ignoble death vs. a noble one.  Achilles had fought and died bravely at Troy, and therefore he was buried with honour and ceremony, and his name is still remembered.  Conversely, Agamemnon died a shameful death, struck down covertly by his wife’s lover, and his body was not treated properly after burial.  It seems that in Hades, his only concern is the loyalty or disloyalty of women


Will the deception of Odysseus never end?  I could not believe he chose to tease and “play with” his father, after all the poor old man had been through.  However, he called his actions a “trial” so perhaps he felt he still needed to establish the loyalty of whoever knew is true identity.

The Palace of Ulysses
source Wikimedia Commons

Thursday 27 March 2014

A Preface to Paradise Lost by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis does it again.  Not only does he supply enlightening commentary to accompany a reading of Paradise Lost, but he touches on a number of other books and subjects, conveying fascinating information in an extremely accessible narrative.

A Preface to Paradise Lost is a compilation of Lewis' Ballard Matthews Lectures, which he gave in 1941 to students at the University College of Northern Wales. Lewis' expertise was Medieval and Renaissance literature, and while reading this book, it is apparent that he is in his element, as he covers not only Paradise Lost but also gives the reader an introduction to the genre of epic and insights into how to read it.

Lewis' initial chapters --- more than one-third of the book --- cover epic poetry, both primary and secondary, and he provides numerous examples contrasting the two, from The Odyssey, The Iliad, Beowulf, The Aeneid and, of course, Paradise Lost, to further the readers' understanding.  Next, in a lecture titled, The Unchanging Human Heart, he deals with how to read a poem (or book), which is perhaps my favourite lecture of all.  How do we deal with the gulf between our era and the author's?  Do we read only for what is relevant to us, or do we attempt to engage with the author?  Lewis deals with both approaches:

"A method often recommended may be called the method of The Unchanging Human Heart.  According to this method the things which separate one age from another are superficial ……. if we stripped [off the superficialities] …… we should find beneath … an anatomy identical with our own ….. we shall find the Unchanging Human Heart, and on this we are to concentrate.   
I held this theory myself for many years, but I have now abandoned it.  I continue, of course, to admit that if you remove from people the things that make them different, what is left must be the same, and that the Human Heart will certainly appear as Unchanging if you ignore its changes ……. [thus] our whole study of the poem will then become a battle between us and the author in which we are trying to twist his work into a shape he never gave it, to make him use the loud pedal where he really used the soft, to force into false prominence what he took in his stride, and to slur over what he actually threw into prominence ……….. I do not say that even on these terms we shall not get some value out of our reading; but we must not imagine that we are appreciating the works the old writers actually wrote ……
Fortunately, there is a better way.  Instead of stripping the knight of his armour you can try to put his armour on yourself ………. I would much rather know what I should feel like if I adopted the beliefs of Lucretius than how Lucretius would have felt if he had never entertained them.  The possible Lucretius in myself interests me more than the possible C.S. Lewis in Lucretius …… 
To enjoy our full humanity we ought, so far as is possible, to contain within us potentially at all times, and on occasion to actualize, all the modes of feeling and thinking through which man has passed …….. Only thus will you be able to judge the work 'in the same spirit that its author writ' and to avoid chimerical criticism.  It is better to study the changes in which the being of the Human Heart largely consists than to amuse ourselves with fictions about its immutability ………."

Finally Lewis delves into Paradise Lost, but instead of summarizing the chapters, Lewis concentrates on expounding on particular characters and certain themes.  He explores the poem's theology, hierarchy, Satan, Satan's followers, the angels, Adam and Eve, unfilled sexuality, and the Fall. Addressing some of the controversies over the poem, Lewis deals with the difficulties with his typical logical summations and a sprinkling of dry wit.  And while mostly praising Milton's achievement, he does not hesitate to point out perceived flaws in the work, and while doing so, gives the reader a more profound comprehension of the challenges of Milton's task.

While amazingly thorough, Lewis' writing is simple, clear and understandable.  His lectures encourage the reader to read critically, and his explanation of Milton's worldview is not only helpful, but necessary, to gain a good understanding of the poem.  While being very readable, this guide is the definitive "go-to" book for tackling Paradise Lost for readers who want to go in-depth with their study.

Paradise Lost Review

Wednesday 26 March 2014

The Odyssey Read-Along Book XXI & XXII

The Odyssey Read-Along @ Plethora of Books

Book XXI

The contest and therefore, the beginning of the slaughter of the suitors, is begun by the history of the backstrung bow.  It was given to Odysseus by Iphitos when they had met trying to retrieve their sheep and horses from the men of Messene.  Odysseus had left it behind in Ithaka when he went to Troy, and in his household it had remained.  Penelope retrieves the bow, announces the contest to the suitors and then places it in the hands of Eumaios, who is weeping when he sees it in remembrance of his master.  Antinoös derides him, and then admits that the bow will be hard to string, as he reminisces about Odysseus’ strength.  Telemachos announces that he will be part of the contest and, if he wins, his mother will be able to remain in his house.  He sets up the axes, making them perfect, although he has never done this task before, then picks up the bow, sending the string singing three times before Odysseus stops him at the fourth by making a signal with his head, and Telemachos encourages a suitor to come and test his skill.  Antinoös determines the order in which they will proceed, and Leodes is the first to try, a man disapproving of the suitors’ actions.  He fails, so the suitors decide to heat the bow but even then, they are not able to string it.  Meanwhile, Odysseus meets Eumaois and the oxherd, Philoitios, outside the courtyard and, based on their unwavering loyalty, decides to reveal his identity to them.   They are overjoyed and there is lots of kissing.  He gives commands to both: to Eumaios, to put the bow into his hands and then tell the serving women to bar the doors and not to open them if they hear crashes and outcries; to Philoitios to make fast the courtyard with a bolt.  In the meantime, Eurymachos finds he is unable to string the bow and is distraught, yet Antinoös chastises him, saying that of course they cannot string the bow on a holy feast day, and that they must try again tomorrow.  Odysseus states he would like to attempt the feat that day, but the suitors are alarmed in case of his success, and issue threats if he is able to string it.  Penelope chides them for their rudeness, stating the impossibility of her becoming the wife of "the stranger" but Eurymachos argues that their reputation is at stake, and finally Telemachos intervenes, sending his mother back to her house.  Eumaios tries to carry the bow to “the stranger” but the suitors are so vehement against him, he drops it.  Telemachos exerts his will and it is finally handed to Odysseus.  Eurykleia and Philoitios carry out their orders, while Odysseus strings the bow and makes it sing, sending an arrow through all twelve of the axes. 

A Decrease in Power

The suitors are made even more uneasy, not only by the bow itself, but at the possibility of “the stranger” being able to best them.  Antinoös, though he is full of hot air and bragging, seems to avoid even attempting the feat and later makes an excuse that it’s because it’s a holy feast day that none of them can succeed.


The first people to whom Odysseus chooses to reveal himself, are two servants, Eumaios and Philoitios, a swineheard and an oxherd.  What a surprise! ……. Or is it?  One of Odysseus’ self-given tasks is to find who he is able to trust in his household and from that, whom he will kill and who will survive.  Both servants have shown a steadfast devotion to their master and therefore, perhaps deserve his confidence.

There are more and more instances of Telemachos showing a governance and mastery of his household.

N.C. Wyeth


Odysseus sheds his rags and then springs upon the threshold, announcing that he will shoot another mark that has yet to be struck by man.  To the shock of the assembled party, the arrow flies straight through the throat of Antinoös and he slumps over dead.  “Poor fools”, they thought he had let the arrow fly in error and his target was accidental.  In all his glory, Odysseus reveals his true identity:

“You dogs, you never thought that I would any more come back form the land of Troy, and because of that you despoiled my household, and forcibly took my serving women to sleep beside you, and sought to win my wife while I was still alive, fearing neither the immortal gods who hold the wide heaven, nor any resentment sprung from men to be yours in the future.  Now upon all of you the terms of destruction are fastened.”

Fear choked the suitors, but they attempt to bargain for their lives, as Eurymachos blames all their behaviour on the influence of Antinoös, promising to pay Odysseus gifts.  Odysseus rejects his explanation and proposal, stating not one man will be left alive, causing Eurymachos to call the suitors to arms.  Odysseus kills Eurymachos and Telemachos, Amphinomos, on his way to his father’s side.  He then runs to fetch arms for the four of them (including Eumaios & Philoitios) and they continue to kill.  Agelaos calls for someone to run to the village for help but Melanthios informs him of the barred door but offers to search the house for the hidden weapons.  Quickly he finds them and begins to arm the suitors, giving Odysseus pause. Telemachos confesses that he had inadvertently left the door open and asks Eumaios to find out the culprit.  When he discovers Melanthios, Odysseus instructs them to bind him and hoist him up along the high column to suffer.  Athene appears as Mentor and Agelaos appeals to him, causing anger to grow in Athene.  Surprisingly she chastizes Odysseus for the temperance he’s shown towards the suitors, accusing him of complaining instead of standing up to his enemies.  She assists him with some of the killing but “did not altogether turn the victory their way.”  There is a volley of spears between the two parties, but while Odysseus and his warriors hit their targets, Athene causes the suitors' aims to go astray.  Now the slaughter ensues.  Leodes grasps Odysseus’ knees in supplication and is killed, but when Phemios the singer does the same, Telemachos pleads for mercy for him and also Medon, their herald, who had taken care of him.  Odysseus agrees, stating, “that good dealing is better by far than evil dealing.”  Otherwise, not one man is left alive and Telemachos sends Eurykleia to Odysseus.  When she sees him standing among the blood and battle-gore, she is ecstatic, yet Odysseus lightly scolds her:  “Keep your joy in your heart, old dame; stop, do not raise up the cry.  It is not piety to glory so over slain men.”  Odysseus instructs her not to awaken Penelope, but to assemble all the women who have been disloyal into the hall.  They proceed to hang all these women and, for a finale, hack off  the nose, ears, hands, feet, and private parts of Melanthios to feed to the dogs.  Eurykleia gathers all the women who remain and they are overjoyed to see Odysseus.  “He recognized all these women.”


We understand the grudge Odysseus carries towards the suitors, but his anger towards the women was explored more in this book.  Their crime appears to stem from their immorality and their mutiny against the household.  Both Eurykleia and Telemachos state that they refuse to listen to him or his mother, and that they have taken to sleeping with the suitors.  I’m not clear if the judgement of immorality is based on a cultural standard, or if it is because they are sleeping with enemies of Odysseus. Upon viewing the slain suitors, their reaction was weeping and wailing, so their treachery was quite apparent.

Note:  The last sentence of this book: “He recognized all these women,” is very telling.  That would mean that all the women would have had to be over 20 years old (probably 30 or more likely, 40).  It appears all the young women were the immoral ones, and the older ones were the ones who remained loyal and steadfast.  This is, perhaps, another example of the breakdown of societal conventions due to Odysseus’ absence, and the lack of leadeship on the island.

The Suitors

We witnessed a rather gory end to these young men.  Should Odysseus been more temperate and spared more of them?  I tend to think not.  He will have enough to deal with, trying to explain his actions, and to leave one alive if he is not completely certain of his loyalty, could have been quite dangerous.  If one of them appeared loyal at the palace and then later began to stir up dissent in town, his actions could undermine Odysseus’ position.  Sadly, I think out of necessity, they all had to perish. 

I wonder if any of these suitors had known the real Odysseus, if they would have dared to behave the way they did.  My guess is no.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Candide Read Along Chapters 17 - 24

Chapter 17 - 18

Candide and Cacambo decide to head for Cayenne.  After their horses die and after months of near-starvation, they decide to trust to Providence, climbing in a boat and sailing downstream. After travelling a great distance, their boat is smashed against a reef and they have to climb over rocks for three miles until they see beautifully elaborate carriages and come to a village.  They are flabbergasted to come across children playing quoits with gold, rubies and emeralds and, assuming they are all the children of kings, they return the abandoned jewels to the schoolmaster when the bell rings, but he only laughs and drops them to the ground.  Rescuing the jewels they continue on until the reach an inn, entering to find waiters and waitresses exquisitely dressed and dishes that would feed royalty.  When they try to pay with the gold they took from the road, they are laughed at and told that the meals in the inn are paid for by the government, but perhaps they did not know because this village is one of the poorer villages.  Candide and Cacambo are amazed.  They are then taken to a learned man of the court, and find they are in the former land of the Incas, that has flourished because no one of its citizens is allowed to leave it, which has preserved innocence and happiness.  Their kingdom is called El Dorado.  There, the people worship God but don't ask him for anything because they have everything they need.   Candide and Cacambo are put in a carriage pulled by sheep and taken to the king's palace where they are pampered and clothed and told to kiss the king on each cheek when they meet him.  They spend a month there, but Candide is pining for Cunégonde so they decide to return to civilization.  The king cannot understand their desire to leave but builds a machine that transports them out of El Dorado.  They set out from there with Bueno Aires as their destination, planning of all the wonders they can buy with their riches.

Have Candide and Cacambo found "the best of all worlds" in this chapter?  Voltaire appears to suspend his satire when directly dealing with the people from El Dorado.  What does this mean?  Is he saying that the "best of all worlds" can only be found in a fantasy?  He also makes the comment that El Dorado is as advanced as it is because the people have never left and therefore maintained their innocence and happiness.  Does he think when ideas and customs travel across boundaries, those "foreign" ideas and customs can corrupt society?  And further, does he comment on societies' view of wealth: if we ceased to value material objects (such as the disinterest the people of El Dorado show towards their gold and jewels), will the renunciation of materialism make a well-functioning, more contented society?

Chapter 19 - 20

Their troubles begin again.  Approaching a town, they see a Negro lying on the ground with one leg and one hand missing.  He relates that his master is to blame for his plight, as he (the Negro) got a finger caught in the millstone, hence the loss of his hand, and then was caught stealing, hence the loss of his leg.  Candide is horrified, renounces the philosophy of Optimism and they move on.  The first ship they encounter won't transport them to Bueno Aires and Candide finds out Cunégonde is the mistress of the governor of the city. Candide plans that Cacambo will go there to rescue Cunégonde and he will meet them both in Venice.  He makes a deal with a captain, a Dutch merchant, to sail to Italy but the captain deceives him and sails with his money and the only two sheep he has left from the gifts of the people of El Dorado.  He takes his case against the captain to a judge, but the judge only fines him for being noisy, charges him court costs, and says there is nothing he can do until the captain returns.  This is the last straw for Candide and he appears to give up on the goodness of man altogether.  He finds another ship going to France and offers free passage, food and 2000 piasters to a companion; from the myriad of applicants he choses a poor scholar, Martin, who has had at least as many misfortunes as Candide.  The two companions have a philosophical discussion about moral and physical evil during the voyage.  While Candide still has hope for Pangloss' philosophy, Martin announces that he is a Manichean.  He tells of all the troubles he has experienced, and meanwhile their ship sinks a Spanish ship, which turns out to be the ship of the captain who robbed Candide.  All the men drown but one of Candide's sheep is pulled on board.  Candide and Martin argue for weeks.

Manicheaism  - a religious doctrine, widely prevailing in the 3rd - 5th century, that the universe is controlled by two antagonistic powers, light or goodness, identified with God, and darkness, chaos, or evil. Trivia:  St. Augustine was a Manichean before his conversion.

An important point in the story occurs here:  Candide categorically denounces Pangloss' Optimism for the first time.  Candid has been basing his opinions often on what has happened to other people, but more and more he is experiencing sufferings himself.  Martin's worldview is obviously one where evil is seen as the overriding force in society.  While Martin's observations don't appear unrealistic, they do appear excessive for one person to experience.  One must question Candide's choice of a companion.  Rather than balancing his viewpoint, one would think it would make him an extremist of one order, in the same way Pangloss' one-sided views would make him extreme in another.  

source Wikipaintings

Chapter 21 - 22

They approach France, and while Martin relates that he has been there, he has nothing good to say about it.  Candide fires questions at Martin which are all given pessimistic answers, culminating with, "… if hawks have always had the same character, what makes you think men may have changed theirs?"  Candide asks about free will and the discussion continues.  Because all the travelers Candide meets say they are going to Paris, he decides to do likewise.  He becomes ill and receives the attention of two doctors, whom he does not know nor want.  He is accosted by a number of people wanting money, of which Candide has not a clue and gambles, wondering why he never has any aces.  An abbé from Périgord befriends him.  He takes them to the theatre, claims that in France they respect their queens when they are beautiful and toss them in garbage dumps when they’re dead, and laugh even when they are committing crimes.  Candide wishes to meet Madame Clairon, the actress, but the abbé takes him to meet a lady of a gambling establishment, where Candide manages to lose an enormous chunk of money.  The talk around the dinner table is of novels and great men.  Candide tries Pangloss’ philosophy on a dinner partner but the man disparages his words.  The lady of the house seduces Candide, not only out of his loyalty to Cunégonde, but two of his diamonds.  The abbé uses devious tactics to extract information about Cunégonde and Candide’s plans, then the next morning Candide receives a letter from Cunégonde, begging him to come to her in the city where she is staying.  Candide arrives with a bag of gold and diamonds, but is told the bed curtains must not be drawn.  Suddenly the abbé arrives with officers who arrest him and Martin, yet Candide bribes them for his release, and one agrees to take him by ship to Portsmouth, England.

Again, I don’t care much for Martin.  I’m not sure what purpose he serves other than to rain skepticism and negative opinions over much of their enterprise.  Whereas Cacambo was not surprised by human nature because he took everything in stride, Martin is not surprised by human nature because he always expects the worst from it.  Of course, we meet another avaricious and duplicitous church man, the abbé.  The society of Paris is shown as a sophisticated yet a shallow microcosm of human interactions and entertainment.  Nearly everyone whom Candide meets attempts to exploit him for his riches.  Candide finally flees the city.

Faubourg Saint-Honoré 1615

Chapter 23 – 24

Martin, at a question from Candide, tells him people in England are also mad but it is a different kind of madness than the French.  He claims the English are moody and morose, and the first sight they witness is an admiral being executed because he didn’t kill enough Frenchmen.  After witnessing this atrocious act, Candide refuses to set foot on shore, and two days later they sail for Venice.  Candide is elated, thinking he will find Cunégonde and that “everything is going well.”  When they reach Venice, Candide searches everywhere for Cacambo but he is nowhere to be found and Martin claims that he probably ran off with Candide’s money.  Candide agrees with Martin that, “life is nothing but illusions and calamities”.  Upon seeing a monk and a young woman, Candide remarks upon their happiness but Martin thinks otherwise.  They invite the two to dinner and find out the girl is Paquette, Pangloss’ mistress, who has had to sell herself to survive, along with other miseries, and that the monk was forced into his vocation by his parents and that the prior steals half his  pay and he spends the rest on women.  Martin has won the bet; Candide gives Paquette and the monk money, but Martin doubts they will be happy with it.  Candide then announces he has heard of a senator Pococurante, who makes everyone welcome at his palace and they decide to go and see him.

The execution of the British admiral is based on a true incident and one which Voltaire actively campaigned to stop.  War, again, is a theme and Voltaire brings to the forefront the lack of logic of it, in proportion to the benefits.  Voltaire shows another corrupted churchman, yet this time the monk was simply a victim of circumstances,  one who did not choose his profession but was forced into it.  Martin’s observation that money will not make the couple happy is shrewd; so far all Candide’s riches have not made him happier and his optimism, while he still clings to vestiges of it, is being whittled away.  Will his encounter or lack of one with Cunégonde push him over the edge?  We shall see ………….

The Grand Canal in Venice from Palazzo Flangini to Campo San Marcuola
about 1738
source Wikipedia

Discussion Questions:

What do you think about Martin?

I do not like Martin at all.  He is a foil to Pangloss.  Pangloss looked for good without actually seeing and, in a way, Martin looks for bad or evil without actually seeing.  If you expect people to be untrustworthy or swindlers or cruel or avaricious, that is what you will start to see and, if you have practiced it to the degree that Martin has, I doubt you would see anything else.  I actually think Voltaire did his argument a disservice by using him, but I guess that remains to be seen.

Does a utopia like El Dorado sound appealing to you?

There were certainly things I liked about El Dorado.  I think that a certain amount of autonomy can be beneficial to a country/society.  The people of El Dorado are knowledgeable and curious, yet they have a special type of wisdom that has created an harmonious balance.  Now do I think that it is realistic?  No.  Balance in human nature is hard to achieve and there will always be corruption, struggles for power, etc.  

Monday 24 March 2014

The Odyssey Read-Along Book XIX & XX

The Odyssey Read-Along @ Plethora of Books

Book XIX

Ordering Eurykleia to get the women into the house, Telemachos and his father proceed to store away all the weapons.  Afterwards Telemachos goes to bed, but Penelope descends from her chamber, wishing to speak with “the stranger”. Once again Melantho harps at Odysseus and he has harsh words for her, but Penelope, catching their conversation, scolds her maidservant and sends her away.  Sorrowfully she confesses to “the stranger” how she has avoided marriage for the past three years, but now she feels that she can delay her fate no longer.  Odysseus requests that Penelope not ask for his history but she ignores his entreaty and, seemingly against his will, he must weave an elaborate lie to placate her curiosity.  When he tells her of Odysseus’ return however, if spite of his apparent sincerity, she does not believe him,   She offers him a bath in the morning yet he will accept only if an old woman with as many sorrows as he, will give it to him.  Penelope sends him Eurykleia, his old nurse, and to his consternation she recognizes a scar he received on his leg from the tusks of a wild boar when he was just a young boy.  Wild with joy, she makes to summon Penelope but Odysseus stays her with rather harsh words.   Professing her loyalty, she leaves and returns with a new basin of water and proceeds to wash him and anoint him with oil.  Then Penelope speaks with him again, admitting to her indecision over her course with the suitors and then requesting that he interpret her dream:  she had twenty geese that fed on wheat and a great eagle came and broke the necks of all of them.  The eagle returned, claiming to be Odysseus and the geese the suitors.  Once again Odysseus tries to convince her of his return and the suitors' destruction, but she then prevaricates, stating that some dreams are true but others only deception, and she believes her dream the latter.  Tomorrow she will set up a contest between the suitors and whoever can send an arrow through twelve axes set up in order, that is the man she will marry.  She retires to her chamber to weep for Odysseus.


How believable is Penelope’s disbelief?  She has had numerous tales of Odysseus’ return, yet she absolutely refuses to lend them any credence.  One would think she could at least send out servants to try to confirm or deny the stories, but it is as if she has given up long ago and the only way she is able to survive is to believe the worst and attempt to deal with it.  It is not surprising that Eurykleia is able to recognize something of Odysseus in “the stranger”, yet Penelope cannot.  She has already abandoned hope.

Portents and Omens

We have seen many portents throughout this poem, which always seem to need to be read by someone.  The omen of the eagle and twenty geese perhaps is not difficult to interpret.  I also thought that the 20 geese could symbolize the 20 years that Odysseus had been away and the sudden appearance of the eagle, his sudden return.

Rather shockingly, in the dream, Penelope likes her geese and cries sorrowfully when they are slaughtered.  Does this mean she likes the attentions of the suitors?  Is her claim of delay a ruse to continue their behaviour, which may possibly stroke her ego?


We finally learn how Odysseus could have honestly come by his ability to so cleverly deceive:

“This was his mother’s noble father, who surpassed all men in thievery and the art of the oath ……” 

However he is not pleased to deceive his wife, although when she persists, he does lie to her, as he finds it necessary to do so.

Odysseus and Penelope
Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein (19th century)
source Wikimedia Commons

Book XX

Sleep evades Odysseus as he agonizes over the suitors' treatment of his household, meanwhile Athene descends and lightly scolds Odysseus for not being grateful that his wife and son and house are within his reach, as well as his lack of faith that he will overcomes his enemies.  As Athene drifts slumber over him, Penelope is praying for the gods to end her life; she would rather be under the earth with Odysseus than have an inferior husband.  Her husband hears her weeping and prays to the gods to send him an omen, both inside and outside, whereupon he hears thunder sent by Zeus and a mill woman prays for the suitors destruction.  Telemachos rises and checks with Eurykleia that the stranger has been treated well, then she makes sure that the palace is ready for the suitors’ arrival for the public festival.  Eumaios stops to speak with Odysseus but Melanthios mocks and challenges Odysseus, who gives no answer.  Philoitios, an oxherd, then arrives, asking about “the stranger” and lamenting the absence of Odysseus and how the suitors ruin his household.  Odysseus assures him of his master’s return, Eumaios prays for the same and Amphinomos reads an omen that Telemachos will not be murdered.  The sacrificing begins and Telemachos commands that “the stranger” will be treated well, amazing everyone with his authority, and even Antinoös defers to his spoken wishes.  One suitor, however, Ktesippos, protests at “the stranger’s” presence and hurls an ox hoof at him, which misses, causing Telemachos to praise the miss otherwise he would have had to stick him through the middle with his spear.  Again, everyone is astounded at his command, and Agelaos tried to calm the situation, but then refers to the giving of Penelope in marriage.  Telemachos states he would be willing to see her married if it was of her own free will, but since she resists, he will not force her.  The suitors laugh at his words, but instead of a sincere laughter, it is as the laughter of men who have lost control and sounds most like a lamentation.  Theoklymenos, disparages their laughter, prophesying their doom and leaves when they threaten him.  They continue their boisterous mocking and jeering but Telemachos only looks at his father.  Penelope listens outside the door.

Identity and Authority

Again we have numerous instances of Telemachos taking control of his household.  He is described as a “man like a god”, has control over his servants, to an acceptable degree, his own mother, and exhibits a subtle control over the suitors.  His speech to Ktesippos exemplifies his newly-acquired power and authority:

“Ktesippos, it was better for your heart that it happened so; you missed the stranger, he avoided your missile.  I would have struck you with my sharp spear fair in the middle, and instead of your marriage your father would have been busy with your funeral here.  Let none display any rudeness here in my house.  I now notice all and know of it, better and worse alike, but before now I was only an infant.  Even so, we have had to look on this and endure it all, the sheepflocks being slaughtered, the wine drunk up, and the food, since it is hard for one man to stand off many.  Come then, no longer do me harm in your hostility.  But if you are determined to murder me with the sharp bronze, then that would be my wish also, since it would be far better than to have to go on watching forever these shameful activities, guests being battered about, or to see you rudely mishandling the serving women all about the beautiful place.”

And yet there is still a sense that both the behaviour of Telemachos and Odysseus is a careful balancing act, but there is evidence, psychologically at least, that the scales are beginning to swing in their favour.

A Decrease of Power?

This chapter shows the suitors at a disadvantage in their surprise at Telemachos’ mastery of situations, and evidenced by their hysterical laughter.  While initially their mocking had a powerful ring to it, we sense now that their laughter is forced and purposed to cover up something.  Could it be the advent of fear?  Hmmm …….

Parthenon Temple of Athene

Friday 21 March 2014

The Odyssey Read-Along Book XVII & XVIII

The Odyssey Read-Along @ Plethora of Books


Telemachos arrives home and Penelope bursts into tears when she beholds her beloved son.  Telemachos begs her not to "stir up a scene of sorrow" and as he walks through the palace, Athene "drifts an enchantment of grace upon him."   The suitors appear to welcome him, while all the while planning his destruction, but Telemachos avoids them.  Peiraios, brings the guest from the ship, and speaks to Telemachos about bringing the gifts from Menelaos, but Telemachos bestows the gifts upon him and ensures that the stranger is treated well.  Telemachos relates his travels to Penelope and the portents for the destruction of the suitors and the return of Odysseus, whereupon the stranger, Theoklymenos, supports Telemachos' story with confirmation of the omen.  The suitors are amusing themselves before they turn to feasting, and Odysseus starts out for his home, on the way meeting Melanthios who is driving his goats and who taunts Odysseus with words indicating his sympathy with the suitors.  He tries to knock Odysseus down but is resisted, and they exchange heated words before Melanthios leaves for the palace to sit with his favourite, Eurymachos.  When the two reach the palace, Odysseus bids Eumaios to go inside while he waits outside, yet his dog, Argos, recognizes his master after 19 years (wow, a nineteen-year-old dog!).  Telemachos immediately spies Eumaios, gives him some food to take to “the stranger” and asks that "the stranger" beg from the other suitors as well.  Antinoös chastises Eumaios for bringing "the stranger" and Telemachos chides both of them.  When Odysseus reaches Antinoös, he compliments him to get a bigger portion, then spins an elaborate story.  Antinoös becomes angry with him, they have words and Antinoös hurls a footstool at Odysseus, striking him on the right shoulder.  Not only Odysseus protests but so do the others, concerned that they are not showing the proper guest-host relationship, as one never knows if one is entertaining a man or a god in disguise.  Penelope hears of the intemperate treatment of “the stranger” and summons him to her but Odysseus says he will come to her after the sun has set.  Eumaios returns to his pigs but Telemachos instructs him to return in the morning.

Know Your Enemies

Telemachos cleverly advises his father to go begging from each of the suitors.  This act ensures that Odysseus will have better knowledge of his enemies when the time comes to strke.  It is interesting to note that Athene must prompt Odysseus to go begging, perhaps evidence that the ruler of Ithaka’s pride has not been completely subdued, even if it means gaining the upper hand.


Odysseus, on his way, is able to practice his self-control before he reaches the suitors.   He does not react to Melanthios’ striking him, and even holds his temper against further verbal abuse.  This practice allows him to control his anger against Antinoös when he reaches the palace, when Antinoös strikes him with a footstool.  I can imagine that the anger is building inside him and the suitors will pay horribly for their rash actions.


What  is the implication of Telemachos’ sneezes?

Odysseus Recognized by his Dog
Theodoor van Thulden
source Wikipaintings


A beggar, Arnaios or Iros, challenges Odysseus, and Antinoös helps to stir up the situation.  Odysseus elicits a promise from the suitors, not to interfer in their fight but when the suitors see his massive limbs, they predict a possible surprise outcome, and Iros is not so willing to fight, having to be pushed on by the suitors.  Odysseus decides not to kill him but instead to lightly hit him and manages to break the bones in his neck, whereupon the beggar sinks to the ground, kicking and bleating.  The suitors laugh at his plight.  Amphinomos gives Odysseus his reward of meat and Odysseus compliments him, prophesying his fate through a speech, and Amphinomos is apprehensive.  Penelope, now graced by Athene with further charms, descends and takes the suitors to task for their ill-treatment of guests, as well as her son who admits that he does not always take the wise course.  Eurymachos tries to bring the subject around to the wedding of Penelope but she deflects his words with a story of Odysseus and tricks them into offering gifts, which pleases her husband mightily.  The suitors give them willingly but Antinoös reminds her that they will not leave until she chooses a husband.   As night comes, Odysseus offers to keep the lights lit for the serving women but one, Melantho, mocks and derides him, until he threatens her with dismembering, whereupon all the women scuttle away.  Eurymachos then takes up the mocking of Odysseus, who counters with insults until Eurymachos tosses a footstool at him, hitting the cupbearer instead.  This act incurs the wrath of Telemachos who gives them such a set-down, they are amazed at his bravado.  Amphinomos upbraids them for their actions, saying that they must treat guests properly; they drink to the gods and then each goes home to bed.

Deception and Truth

We have already seen the numerous crafty deceptions of Odysseus, and in this chapter Penelope echoes her husband’s trickery, cunningly wheedling out of the suitors, numerous gifts for their household.  Telemachos, however, not only speaks with authority but appears to avoid falsity.  Most of his speeches are direct and truthful.

Odysseus Fighting with the Beggar
Lovis Corinth (1903)
source Wikipaintings

Thursday 20 March 2014

Liebster Award

I was surprised and honoured when I found out that Fariba from Exploring Classics had nominated me for the Liebster Award.  From what I can tell, this award is to keep bloggers connected and to help us find new bloggers as well.  What fun!

The rules associated with it are:

The Rules:

1.  Thank the blogger that nominated you and link back to their blog.
2.  Display the award somewhere on your blog.
3.  List 11 facts about yourself.
4.  Answer 11 questions chosen by the blogger who nominated you.
5.  Come up with 11 new questions to ask your nominees.
6.  Nominate 5 - 11 blogs that you think deserve the award and who have
     less than 1,000 followers.  (You many nominate blogs that have already
     received the award, but you cannot renominate the blog that nominated
7.  Go to their blog and inform them that they've been nominated.

11 Facts About Me:

  1.  I live near the city but would rather live in the woods.
  2.  I love most things European.
  3.  I can speak very basic French, Spanish and German and have a
       smattering of Latin and ancient Greek.
  4.  I have a childish child-like, mischievous streak that is hard to shake.
  5.  I don't think that I'm your typical Canadian.
  6.  Things I like to do, but don't have talent for:  art, photography, singing
  7.  Goals for 2014:  to improve my French and to improve my photography
  8.  I have trouble saying "no" when it comes to books (shocking to
       everyone, I know! ;-)  )
  9.  I have trouble thinking up facts about myself.
10.  I like snakes and bats, but not spiders (shudder!).
11.  I like to help people.  

A Woman Reading
Claude Monet (1872)
source Wikipaintings

11 Questions from Exploring Classics:

  1.  What are your favourite and least favourite literary genres?
I, of course, love reading the classics.  I also like reading history, good biographies, poetry, drama and children's literature.

  2.  What are you currently reading?
The list?   War and Peace (just finishing)
                  The Horse and His Boy
                  The Odyssey
                  Le Morte d'Arthur
                  The Idiot

  3.  What month-long book classic challenges would you be interested in
       doing this year?

Now that is a loaded question considering whom you are asking.  I have a number of challenges already for the year and I am trying not to add anymore.  But anyone who is following my blog knows that I have a problem with using the word "no".  So anything that came up, I would consider.  Right now I'm doing a Candide and The Odyssey read-along challenge and coming up is a Madame Bovary read-along, a Barsetshire Chronicles read-along, a read through The Well-Educated Mind biographies with some reading buddies, a Decameron read and discussion and a Gilgamesh read and discussion.  So my plate is overflowing with treats for the year!

  4.  What do you do when you're not reading?
I like to hike, cook, take courses, bike ride, hang out with friends, and think.

  5.  If you were stranded on a desert island, what five books would you
1.  The Bible
2.  Paradise Lost
3.  The Iliad
4.  Les Miserables
5.  Pride and Prejudice/Jane Eyre/The Lord of the Rings ……???

  6.  What sort of music do you listen to?
Some of my favourite artists are Edwin McCain, Daughtry, Jude Cole, Laura Pausini (in Italian), and Alex Ubago (Spanish)
  7.  City or country, beach or mountains?
Country, and either beach or mountains.

  8.  Name five people (dead or alive) with whom you would like to have a
       round-table discussion.
Oooo, this is hard.  Let's see …….. C.S. Lewis, absolutely ……… Oscar Wilde, Aristides, Socrates, Cicero, Saint Augustine, Winston Churchill, Omar Khayyam, Dorothy Sayers ……. see, I couldn't stop at five.  

  9.  What is your favourite book that has been published in the last 10 - 20
Yikes, another hard one!  Okay, I would have to say, John Adams by David McCullough.  Oh, also The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto.

10.  If you could learn another language, what language would you choose to
Well, at this point I would choose to perfect my French, but if I had to choose another language entirely, I would choose Italian.  Russian would be my second choice.

11.  You are on a vacation to a different country.  What do you make sure to
        fit into your itinerary?
If I'm outside North America, art and food discovery would top my list.  Within North America, I would be more likely to choose nature.

Woman Reading
Childe Hassam (1885)
source Wikipaitings

11 Questions for Nominees:

  1.  What book(s) are you currently reading and what do you think of it
       (them) so far?

  2.  If you could only read books from one country, which country would you

  3.  Can you name a book that you've read and expected to enjoy, but
       ended up hating it?  

  4.  Can you name a book that you thought you'd hate and ended up liking?

  5.  Where is your favourite reading place?  

  6.  Do you have any "bad" habits when reading, such as dog-earring,
       writing in books, talking to the book, etc.?  (although I'm not sure
        if any of those are "bad" habits! :-)  )

  7.  If you had to live as a character from a book, who would you choose
       and why?

  8.  Would you/have you challenged yourself to read in a genre or era
        that you wouldn't usually choose?  Which one?

  9.  Can you think of a popular writer (or two) with whom you were

10.  If you could live somewhere other than where you live now, where
       would that be?

11.  Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Portrait of an Old Woman Reading
Gerritt Dou
source Wikipaintings