Twitter and the ancient epigram

Whether we know it or not, we love epigrams. Whether we like it or not, the ancient epigram has never left us, although we may have left the term ‘epigram’ behind, except when scholars talk about it. The epigrammatic style has always been one of the most popular: concise, funny, incisive. Not anyone can do … Continue reading Twitter and the ancient epigram

Fiction and non-fiction

One of the peculiarities of the Anglo-American book cultures is, to my mind, the habit of dividing prose into fiction and non-fiction. As far as I know, no other cultural tradition does it. In French bookshops, books are categorised as literature (novels) – subdivided into French novels, foreign novels, youth/teenager novels, fantasy/science-fiction and detective/thriller/crime novels, … Continue reading Fiction and non-fiction

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 views … Continue reading Palinodes or the courage to say ‘I was wrong’

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 anything … Continue 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. But … Continue reading Nostalgic wanderings

The bored ones get the best of Hell

Dante’s Hell is a place of extreme pain and suffering. This is partly the reason why generations of modern readers have found Inferno so much more exciting than Paradiso or even Purgatorio. The farther one moves away from excruciating pain, the boring the story gets, right? This is not how I feel, but I recognise, … Continue reading The bored ones get the best of Hell

Medieval cultural influencers

No one mentions notaries, secretaries and other such public functionaries and thinks of power and influence. It’s true, in countries subject to civil law, a notary is required to authenticate a power of attorney, write up a will or transfer property. But apart from that, notaries are not seen as agents of cultural innovation, but … Continue reading Medieval cultural influencers

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 the … Continue reading The ancient lover of laughter

The pundits

Suddenly everyone has become an immunologist and a confinement pundit. It is easy to tell the genuine immunologist from the quack, but it’s not so easy to recognise a true confinement pundit. Who are these? Surely it can’t be those who tell us to fight the disruption to our normal routines by engineering new routines. … Continue reading The pundits

Variations on the same theme

If you’re picking up a new book to read in the hope of learning something new, I have a surprise for you: it’s not there. The beauty and genius of literature is that even though the whole gamut of human experience has been covered in previous works, new books always have something to tell us. … Continue reading Variations on the same theme