The longue durée

Ever since Fernand Braudel’s The Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (1949), the concept of the longue durée (long-term structures) has become one of the dominating concepts in the history of history, historiography, the study of how the past becomes history. According to the longue durée, the historical event fades in the faceContinue reading “The longue durée”

Poetry, wine and death

The link between poetry, love and death was well established in ancient times. Eros-thanatos is a recurrent theme of ancient lyric poetry. Wine, however, doesn’t usually come into the equation. The so-called sympotic poetry of the archaic age of Greek literature brings poetry in the midst of wine drinking parties or symposia (literally drinking-together), butContinue reading “Poetry, wine and death”

The neo-scroll turn

We are so surrounded by books that we forget how revolutionary the emergence of the codex – the bound book made up of stitched sheets stacked together and enclosed between a case – was to the cultures around the Mediterranean and beyond. The book as we know it. Writing predates the advent of the bookContinue reading “The neo-scroll turn”

Knocking at each other’s door

The ancient Greek and Roman poets would be thrilled to learn that one of the key motifs of their poetry has become routine these days. The world of lockdown is also one of paraclausithyron, the doleful cry of a lover standing at the beloved’s door, begging for entry and bewailing the exclusion. The ‘lament atContinue reading “Knocking at each other’s door”

An offence against language

It is one of history’s gravest ironies that in a medieval world sanctioned by the modern observer with illiteracy, ignorance and obscurantism, the 10th-century grammar teacher Gunzo of Novara should be censured by his contemporaries for a Latin mistake he inadvertently made. To be sure, criticising a 19th-century scholar for bad philology or a 21st-centuryContinue reading “An offence against language”

Palinodes or the courage to say ‘I was wrong’

Intellectual honesty is a virtue universally accepted, and any perceived departures from it are usually condemned. The ability to act on the available evidence and to speak one’s mind – truth and freedom –, are features of a healthy intellectual environment and the characteristics of an honest thinker. But often the evidence changes, the viewsContinue reading “Palinodes or the courage to say ‘I was wrong’”

The Romans always win until they don’t

One of the most fascinating inscriptions from ancient Rome is the so-called ‘Hisma inscription’. Written in Greek by someone named ‘Lauricius’ in probably the late 2nd century AD, it proclaims that: ‘The Romans always win’. The sandstone slab was found in South Jordan, in Roman Arabia, on the edge of the Empire. The Romans keptContinue reading “The Romans always win until they don’t”

A catalogue of Cassandras

Do you remember Cassandra, the prophetess of the ancient sad countenance who possessed the gift of true prophecy but could never be believed? She was reportedly murdered by Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra along with her husband, but the truth is that she’s still alive. The rumour has it that she married the boy who cried wolfContinue reading “A catalogue of Cassandras”

Have you ever tried Dante-dating?

Let’s be clear about this. I’m talking about Dante-dating, not dating Dante. However brilliant the poet was, I have my doubts the average man would have liked him – or that the average woman would have dated him. Yes, he’d write you some beautiful sonnets, he’d even make you famous for 700 years (and counting),Continue reading “Have you ever tried Dante-dating?”

Wooden myths last forever

I just love it when myths come back to bite us (in the ass), like Sartre’s annoying flies. Most cultural artefacts do not originate in fact, but in mythology, which is not to say fiction. And myths keep coming back, they are more resilient than any stone foundations. Long after the last ruins have fadedContinue reading “Wooden myths last forever”