Pseudonyms and fake news

Despite speculation and hard-headed scrutiny, nobody knows who the person behind the hyper-famous name ‘Elena Ferrante’ is. We might never find out. The French writer Romain Gary received the Goncourt Prize twice, once for a book written under his own name, the other for a book written under the pseudonym ‘Emile Ajar’. Nobody suspected anythingContinue reading “Pseudonyms and fake news”

Nostalgic wanderings

One thing which is missing from ancient and medieval literature is nostalgia. True, Ulysses can’t wait to see his wife, his kingdom and his native shores. The medieval mind dreams about the Kingdom of Heaven and adopts the restlessness of the pilgrim, the viator, keen to complete the journey and oblivious to present comforts. ButContinue reading “Nostalgic wanderings”

The ancient lover of laughter

There are few better ways to die than by and through laughter. People have been dying of laughter since at least the 5th century BC, when the Greek painter Zeuxis reportedly died laughing at his Portrait of Aphrodite As a Crone. There is no reason to doubt that humans have been telling jokes since theContinue reading “The ancient lover of laughter”

Letters addressed to a ghost

When we think of Renaissance humanism, several things leap to mind: the rediscovery of the classics, the discovery of manuscripts and works previously thought lost, a taste for antiquity, Cicero’s eloquence, classical ideas, imitation of the ancient masters. But we rarely, if ever, think about imaginary friends. And we rarely think about the novelty ofContinue reading “Letters addressed to a ghost”

When in exile, do as the exiled do

The public ban now in place in many parts of the world hides a more awful reality: we are not just banned from our streets, our squares, our schools and our offices, we are in exile. We are wandering away from home, sometimes nervously, sometimes resignedly, while staying home and staying still. There’s no shortageContinue reading “When in exile, do as the exiled do”

Lost in ‘translatio’

You only get to invent the wheel once. This basic principle works in engineering as well as in art. Culture is a wheel in motion, and what was created, doesn’t get recreated, even when it gets lost. It is merely rediscovered and updated. The long cultural shift from Antiquity to the Middle Ages (as weContinue reading “Lost in ‘translatio’”