Circe by Madeline Miller

"The young man was leaning against my house, watching me. His hair was loose and tousled, his face bright as a jewel. .. I knew who he was, of course I knew...That laughing gadfly of the gods, Hermes" (Painting by Nicholas Hillliard).

“In due course we came to the island of Aeaea, the home of the beautiful Circe, a formidable goddess, though her voice is like a woman’s. She is the sister of the wizard Aeetes, both being children of the Sun who lights the world by the same mother, Perse the daughter of Ocean”.* So does Homer introduce us to the witch goddess Circe, who famously turned men to swine. After giving Odysseus’ men a potion, Homer’s Circe “struck them with her wand, drove them off, and penned them in the pigsties. For now to all appearance they were swine: they had pigs’…

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A Farewell to Arms

(by Ernest Hemingway) (1929) – His robust, muscular and terse style?  Give us a break!  This is his opening paragraph: “In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the…

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10 Birthdays and A Funeral

'We have to make a birthday tea for 10 and a funeral tea...'

20 March – a big day in cultural history: 43 BC – Ovid “Take your fill of amusement, but cast the veil of modesty over your peccadilloes. Never make a parade of your good fortune, and never give a woman a present that another woman will recognise.” [The Art of Love] “Death is not accustomed to injure genius, and greater fame arrives after we have become ashes…” [Epistle to an Envious Man]. 1828 – Henrik Ibsen “SOLNESS: Human beings haven’t any use for these homes of theirs. Not for being happy in. And I shouldn’t have had use for a…

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Those Barren Leaves

By Aldous Huxley (1925) “Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books; Or surely you’ll grow double: Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks; Why all this toil and trouble? … Enough of Science and of Art; Close up those barren leaves; Come forth, and bring with you a heart That watches and receives.” [William Wordsworth, The Tables Turned (1798)] Huxley’s sojourn among the leisured and treasured and their hangers-on, impoverished chancers all, stationed above the Tyrrenhian Sea, whilst as “clever but ephemeral”* as all his books, is still a hoot, a wiry satire of cultural elites who talk…

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Watership Down by Richard Adams

Nuthanger Farm. Visited by the rabbits on their odyssey.

“Bright eyes, burning like fire…” O sorry, where were we?  I was lost in contemplation of the ugly film animation of this story – I don’t think that the term “bright eyes” appears at all in the classic children’s book. And these rabbits wouldn’t like the fire simile at all. The rabbits of Sandleford Warren have got to get out of there.  Led by intrepid Hazel and little Fiver (a seer, no less) a small but feisty party sets off for a new home which is way way too far off, across too many hazards.  On the way we learn that pet rabbits become lazy and dull, that to…

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