Last week, I finished no fewer than three books – Pindar’s Odes, The Nearer East by David Hogarth and Cairo by Artemis Cooper. This means I have finally been able to start Anthony Sattin’s Young Lawrence. I’m already on page 77 so don’t expect it to last long!
Books in Brief
tr. by Anthony Verity
As you would expect, Pindar spends a great deal of time praising his patrons. As I put the book back on the shelf, however, I will always remember his more cheeky side and the way in which writing poems for money could be a risky business.
In his second Isthmian ode Pindar reminds his patron, Thrasybulus
… that he has the opportunity, by handsomely paying Pindar for this ode, to maintain the generosity… of his father
If I had paid for this ode I would not be impressed if Pindar or anyone else used the work to try and cadge more money out of me!
The Notes tell me that Pindar’s handling of the myth of Neoptolemus in the seventh Nemean ode was ‘in reaction to criticism of what he had said about Neoptolemus in another poem’ (Paean 6). There, he said that Neoptolemus went to Delphi to rob it; in Nemean 7 the hero dies ‘while contesting over sacrificial meat’.
I am now up to 1819 and these are dog days for the poet. His brother Tom has just died after a long and painful battle against tuberculosis and Keats himself is also becoming ill with the disease. He is finding it difficult to write poetry and is having to deal with personal attacks in the press. If only poets were attacked today. Actually, I am glad that they are not, but wouldn’t it be good if we lived in a world where they and writers truly were the ‘unacknowledged legislators of the world’ rather than simply politicians and utilitarians.
The Nearer East
When Alexander the Great founded Alexandria did he realise that it would not be able to control the Nile Valley? Did he conceive of it as – first and foremost – ‘a cosmopolitan mart’? As Hogarth says, he don’t know, but he compliments the conqueror of (most of) the world on choosing to place Alexandria where he did.
The site is admirably chosen… the city has remained on substantially the same ground throughout all ages. It lies in the only elevated sea-side locality within reach of a Nile canal… but… is far enough to west of that estuary to be free of the silt put out by the river… Alexandria is the one spot where there can be a great port in Egypt.
I am happy for Alexandria but what a shame it is that there is virtually nothing of the ancient city left. Nothing of the old city, and absolutely nothing, as it seems, of the ancient royal quarter where Alexander and the Ptolemies were buried.
Finished and greatly enjoyed. That’s me. What about you? Is there any reason why you should consider reading Cairo? Well, I love watching war documentaries on TV. When it comes to the Second World War, though, nine times out of ten, the programme will be about the war as it unfolded in Europe. Cairo not only tells you about the Desert War, a no less fascinating story of Rommel’s charge across the desert, desperate British defending, the timely arrival of American arms and heroic fighting by Empire soldiers, but of how Egyptian politics/politicians and high society reacted to the fluctuating fortunes of the great commanders. It is surely the story of the birth of modern Egypt. If you have any interest at all in the Middle-East, that is a tale that you will want to read.