A Week With Words (17)

Pindar’s Odes
tr. Anthony Verity

I am closing in on the end of Pindar’s Odes, with only the Isthmian ones still to read. Early last week, I read the last few Nemean odes and found the eleventh the most interesting. It was written in honour not of a winning athlete but of a man named Aristagoras on his becoming a prytanis – a state official. Can you imagine a politician being named in the government and having a poem written about him to celebrate this? I’m not sure I can!

Hestia, daughter of Rhea, by your allotted office
patron of council chambers, sister of Zeus on high
and Hera who shares his throne;
graciously welcome David Cameron into your hall
next to your shining sceptre…

No. It doesn’t work.

Cairo
Artemis Cooper

As of today I am on page 221 of 346. Even if I read Cairo every day between now and the end I will never forget – and feel a little bad – for the fact that up till today I have only read the book in fits and bursts every few days. It has deserved better.

The high points of those occasions when I have read Cairo, however, have been these – i. The end of the ‘Tobruk’ chapter, which, following an account of how Rommel swept through the desert towards the city that Alexander founded, ended

The following day [Rommel] stopped, close to a railway halt called el Alamein: sixty miles beyond lay Alexandria.

After reading about Rommel’s unstoppable progress I both gulped for Alexandria and breathed a sigh of relief as I already know what happened next. The power of books! ii. The ‘return’ of Almasy. Here he is, three years before Michael Ondaatje published The English Patient gallivanting across the desert with John Eppler on the latter’s ultimately fruitless spying mission. One thing that stuck out about Cooper’s little bio of Almasy was the fact that she refers to the Gilf el Kebir rather than Gilf Kebir. I wonder what the difference is?

The Nearer East
David Hogarth

You may recall that last weekend, I linked to this blog post. In doing so, and re-reading its contents I realised why The Nearer East is worth reading. The writer says of the book that it is

a survey of the area from the Balkans to Iran, including north-east Africa, which discusses geology, climate, and communication routes, as well as population distribution, ethnicity, and agriculture, and includes prescient observations about the conflicts of geography and ethnicity

And certainly, Hogarth mentions some familiar names who feature in the news today – Kurds, Yazidis, Wahabists (or Wahabites). I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by the above quotation. We understand our present by paying attention to the past, after all.

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