And the sun still rises

The sun rising over the Maddalena Archipelago in Sardinia, August 2022, from our boat ‘At Last’ If European literature begins with Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, then European literature begins with the most beautiful sunrise. The early Dawn was born; her rose fingers bloomed. Rhododactylos eos. Dawn with its rose fingers. Two Greek words for universal... Continue Reading →

Dot dot dot

Punctuation is unnecessary. Words are just fine without it. Strange signs between stranger signs. More code, more rules, more structure. To the reader, an unpunctuated or mildly punctuated sentence feels free. Untethered. As though stops need signs, or turns need warning, or strings need reminders. There are rules of punctuation, just like there are rules... Continue Reading →

The gift of memory

A piece of parchment containing information about the conscription of troops, written in Middle Persian and dated to the 620s AD, Basel, Universitätsbibliothek, M I 18 The older the narrative, the harder it is to pin it down. Age makes commentary difficult, because the distance multiplies the ambiguity. Time is the master of ambivalence, the... Continue Reading →

Fiction is real

The ancients were clear about it. Whatever is not real, historical, is fictitious, from the Latin word fictio, and ultimately fingere, to contrive, to form. History is shaped by the forces of history. Fiction is shaped by its author. In one we are passive, in the other active, storytellers, shapers of the narrative around us.... Continue Reading →

You’ve been warned

"Let he who should remove this book be anathema!', a book curse from 1449 in a 12th-century manuscript, British Library, Add MS 14784 There's a big difference between an admonition and an imprecation. The former shows its teeth while the latter bites. When it came to medieval books, warnings were usually rejected in favour of... Continue Reading →

Clashing giants

Adrian Ghenie, Impossible Body 4 (2002) It is surely much more desirable as a reader to tackle a short book. It is surely equally desirable, if not even more so, for a writer to pen a short, rather than a long, book. It feels more natural, more genuine, less contrived. There is something in the... Continue Reading →

Fighting for each phrase

Human beings woke up fairly quickly to the idea that written language has power. That unlike spoken words, the written sign with articulate attendant meaning has a quality that can change things, shifting the balance of power, bringing in new players and taking others out. The ancient Roman practice of 'damnatio memoriae', was less an... Continue Reading →

Behind the scenes

There's something about palimpsests that goes beyond palimpsests. A text written under another text which hides the latter is more important than one thinks. To preserve an old text, a new one needs to stay relevant so that the older one, though hidden, survives. When palimpsests make the news, the superimposed texts don't matter. But... Continue Reading →

From duae linguae to Duolingo

Foreign language teaching - the medieval way, with a rod, wax tablet and domination, 12th-century manuscript, France, Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Ms. 1041 Perhaps there is some comfort for any learner struggling with the first baby steps in a given area of study that others before them shared the same struggle and walked the same path,... Continue Reading →

In eternity mode

The viewpoint from eternity, the effigy of an elite woman holding a book, St Anne's Chapel, Lisbon Cathedral (14th century) There is a fashion for all things human, a style that comes, stays for a little while, and goes away, while another comes to replace it. The 15th century marks the beginning of a new... Continue Reading →

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