Ferdinandus Taurus – Munro Leaf

“Olim in Hispania erat taurulus nomine Ferdinandus.”

Well, right away I must confess that my Latin is not nearly good enough to read this book unaided.  I can read short paragraphs about Caesar fighting barbarians and Roman generals, but that’s about it.  However, the dictionary at the back of this book came to my aid as did other resources.  Honestly, I confess though, it took me ages to read this.

Almost everyone, I think, knows the Story of Ferdinand, the young bull who lives in Spain and would like nothing better than to sit in his meadow and to smell the flowers.  Yet when a bumblebee inopportunely stings him, just as some matadors are checking out bulls to take to Madrid to the fights, things go terribly wrong.  Ferdinand is mistaken for a magnificent fighter and is dragged off to the bullfights.  But our intrepid hero will not give in, no matter how many banderillos or picadores or matadores taunt him to fight. No, Ferdinand stays true to his placid nature and simply sits and smells the flowers. Finally he is sent back to his meadow and he is free.

And since this book is set in Spain, what better tribute than to read it in Spanish?  So that’s what I did after my foray into it in Latin.  “Había una vez en España un torito que se llamaba Ferdinando.”

This book was published in 1936, nine months before the civil war broke out in Spain, and was seen as a promotion of pacifism.  Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator condemned it as propaganda, as did Hitler, who banned the book in Nazi Germany.  In contrast, the book was lauded by the political left; Gandhi claimed it was his favourite book, and it was the only non-communist book allowed in Poland by Joseph Stalin.

I did a comprehensive analysis of The Story of Ferdinand in English on my children’s book blog.  The depth of this book is astounding.  You can find my review here.

Okay, I squeaked in one more book (well, actually two if you count both the languages) for my Language Freak Summer Challenge.  Yippee!

La Parure (The Necklace) par Guy de Maupassant

“C’etait une de ces jolies et charmantes filles, nées, comme par une erreur du destin, dans une famille d’employés.”

Yes, she certainly was a pretty and charming girl who was born by a mistake of destiny into a family of office workers.  Mathilde would dream of riches and fame and jewels, covering her life of drudgery in a tapestry of fantasies and longings.  Finally, one day, her husband arrives with an invitation to a party.  Mathilde manipulates this honest, hard-working man into purchasing a new elegant dress for her, but when she complains of a lack of jewels, he has the answer: borrow some from her wealthy friend Madame Forestier!  A lovely diamond necklace of Madame’s catches Mathilde’s eye and she must have it.  Her friend, generous to the end, gladly loans it and the evening of her dreams begins.  She is admired, she is catered to, she is wrapped in a heavenly realm of blissful wealth and prestige.  Late do she and her husband return home, reluctant to leave the party until the end but, oh no!  The necklace has disappeared and she is sure that she left it in the taxi.  Days of searching yield nothing and finally there is only one thing to do.  Withdrawing their life savings and taking out a loan, they replace the necklace, hoping that Madame will not notice.  But this painful action causes them ten years of needless toil and suffering.  Why is it needless?  Well, you will have to read the tale to find out!

This short story was really a gem and, in spite of having an inkling of the final twist, it still held my attention to end.  In fact, I had expected to get fatigued by reading such a long (for me) story in French and I had planned to take a break, but instead, I was held rapt until the end.

I did wonder at the title of this story.  In the tale, the necklace is mostly referred to as “la rivière“, yet the title is “la parure“.  When I looked up “la rivière” in my French dictionary it says “river“, and “la parure“means “finery” or “jewelry“.  So then I looked up necklace and it had “le collier“.  What?  Do any of you Francophiles understand the distinction between these terms? Help!

In any case, this story has definitely been a huge incentive to read more of Maupassant.  His short stories are very readable and a good way to keep improving my French.  I certainly struggled here and there in parts of it and learned a number of new words, yet I was also pleased with my progress.

This will probably be the last book for my Summer Freak Language Challenge, unless I can squeak in a short children’s book before the end. Thanks Ekaterina, for holding this wonderful challenge.  It’s given me a chance to practice languages that I wouldn’t normally read in.  I’m already looking forward to next year’s challenge!

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

“This book is an account of the virtuous asceticism and admirable way of life and also of the words of the holy and blessed fathers.”

The Desert Fathers were a group of faithful monks and nuns who chose to settle mainly in Lower Egypt, mostly around the desert of Scetes. While some of them lived in groups and had at least some contact with the outside world, some were hermits who preferred to live in seclusion.  Asceticism was also practiced by many to purify their souls.  While Paul of Thebes was the first monk to retire to the desert, Saint Anthony the Great was the one to begin the exodus.  These Desert Fathers served as the early model for Christian monasticism.

As expected, there are many sayings that deal with religion:

Abba Epiphanius:

  • He also said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is a precipice and a deep abyss.” 
  • Someone else asked him, “Is one righteous man enough to appease God?”  He replied, “Yes, for he himself has written: ‘Find a man who lives according to righteousness, and I will pardon the whole people.’ (Jer. 5:11)

We also find sayings from fathers instructing their disciples:

Abba Agathon:

  • The same Abba Agathon was walking with his disciples.  One of them, finding a small green pea on the road, said to the old man, “Father, may I take it?”  The old man, looking at him with astonishment, said, “Was it you who put it there?” “No,” replied the brother.  “How then,” continued the old man, “can you take up something which you did not put down?”

And fathers who seek harmony:

Abba Paul the Barber:

  • Abba Paul the Barber and his brother Timothy lived in Scetis. They often used to argue.  So Abba Paul said, “How long shall we go on like this?”  Abba Timothy said to him, “I suggest you take my side of the argument and in my turn I will take your side when you oppose me.”  They spent the rest of their days in this practice.

Coptic icon of
St. Anthony the Great
source Wikipedia

Philosophical fathers:

Abba Anthony the Great:

  • He also said, “God does not allow the same warfare and temptations to this generation as he did formerly, for men are weaker now and cannot bear so much.”

Abba Poeman:

  • He also said, “Men speak to perfection but they do precious little about it.”

And somewhat grumpy fathers:

Abba Arsenius:

  • Blessed Archbishop Theophilus, accompanied by a magistrate, came one day to find Abba Arsenius.  He questioned the old man to hear a word from him.  After a short silence the old man answered him, “Will you put into practice what I say to you?”  They promised him this.  “If you hear Arsenius is anywhere, do not go there.”
  • Another time the archbishop, intending to come to see him, sent someone to see if the old man would receive him.  Arsenius told him, “If you come, I shall receive you; but if I receive you, I receive everyone and therefore I shall no longer live here.”  Hearing that, the archbishop said, “If I drive him away by going to him, I shall not go anymore.”
    Saint Arsenius
    fresco at Mt. Athos, 14th century
    source Wikipedia

And lastly, not only sayings from the Desert Fathers, but saying from the “Desert Sisters,” as well:

Amma Syncletica:

  • She also said, “It is good not to get angry, but if this should happen, the Apostle does not allow you a whole day for this passion, for he says: “Let no the sun go down.” (Eph. 4:25)  Will you wait till all your time is ended?  Why hate the man who has grieved you?  It is not he who has done the wrong, but the devil.  Hate sickness but not the sick person.”
  • She also said, “Just as it is impossible to be at the same moment both a plant and a seed, so it is impossible for us to be surrounded by worldly honour and at the same time to bear heavenly fruit.”

I was expecting to have to slog through this book, but what a delightful surprise.  While these Fathers obviously knew their Scriptures and spent time with God, their focus was on themselves: refining their souls and being a good example to those around them. The personalities of each of them shone through in their sayings and, in spite of many of the sayings being quite short and compact, they brought a window into their lives of asceticism, their values and struggles that was very compelling.  An enlightening read that gives not only a fascinating window into this era of history, but also imparts values that are as relevant today as they were in the 3rd and 4th century.

My Shakespeare Project

Inspired by Melissa at Avid Reader’s Musings and also, embarrassed by my complete lack of progress for my 2014 Shakespeare Challenge, I have decided to launch a new project for myself!  As if, I needed another, right?

My Shakespeare Project is my attempt to read through all of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets.  And I’m giving myself no time limit, so there will be no pressure …….. well, maybe just a little bit of pressure.  This project will also help me to check some books off my Classics Club list, which is always welcome.

I really like how Melissa has challenged herself to read a play, see a performance and watch a movie of the play.  It gives you a much richer experience, and I hope to do this as well.  You can check out my list here.

So wish me luck as I embark on an Elizabethan voyage with the Bard.  Bon voyage!


Here is a wonderful post from Sophia from Ravens and Writing Desks on Tips for Reading Shakespeare.  Check it out!

As Sophia mentions in her post, she likes the Folger editons, which I’ve realized that I like more than I had indicated in a below comment, but I still prefer the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) editions if you have some experience with Shakespeare.  For beginners I recommend the No Fear Shakespeare books.  These have a limited number of plays available, but they do contain Elizabethan English on one side and modern English on the other which is very helpful for beginners.

Bout of Books #11 – Update

And so my four weeks of read-a-thons comes to an end with Bout of Books read-a-thon #11.  And so does my vacation, and the reality of life sets in again.

I’m curious to see how many pages I read this week.  I felt I read more than each of the first three weeks, but then again, the one week I thought that I completely bombed, I actually read almost as much as the week before, so who knows?

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton
~~  Chapter 5-15, p. 53-end (158 pgs)

Defence Speeches by Cicero

~~ p. 139-end (137 pgs)
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers
~~  p. 77-end (193 pgs)
Russian Thinkgers by Isaiah Berlin
~~   p.1 – 7 (7 pgs)  

Summer by Edith Wharton

~~  Complete (127 pgs) 
Montaigne’s Essays
      On Sadness
~~   approx (10 pgs) 

Planets in Peril by David C. Downing

~~ p. 31- 53 (23 pgs)

Books completed:

Defence Speeches
The Man Who Was Thursday
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Total pages read:  655 pages

Wow!  I’m really surprised that I didn’t make at least 700+ pages this week. So let’s calculate my overall vacation reading:

Total pages read:  2,673 pages

Total books finished:  13 books

Oooo, I like the “books finished” number, but I was really hoping to read more pages.  Oh well, between swimming and kayaking and badminton and biking and hiking and socializing, I probably did reasonably well.

How did your reading go this summer?  Do you feel that you’ve had more time to read?  Less?  Are you satisfied with your goals?

Le Morte d’Arthur Read-Along!

Jean from Howling Frog Books has decided to do a Le Morte d’Arthur Read-Along in honour of her 2014 Arthurian Challenge.  Bless her heart, because I have been trying to get through this book all year, and for some reason it has become a slog that is not moving along very quickly.  A read-along is just what I need.

Have you ever read Le Morte d’Arthur?  Would you like to join us?  If so, then skip on over to Jean’s sign-up page and be part of the fun.  You’ll meet King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Sir Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table, and be part of battles, friendship, agony and betrayal.  What more excitement could you ask for?

Defence Speeches by Cicero

“I imagine you must be wondering, members of the jury, why it is that, when there are so many leading orators and men of the highest rank present here in court, I of all people should have stood up to address you; for neither in age, nor in ability, nor in authority do I bear comparison with these men who have remained seated.”

So begins, Cicero’s first speech, Pro Roscio Amerino, his first speech delivered in a criminal court when he was a young 26-year-old defence advocate.  While Defence Speeches contains five speeches that Cicero gave during the years 80 B.C. to 52 B.C., this speech is my favourite.  It shows Cicero as a fresh, young advocate, willing to take chances, yet also using his wiles to sway listeners to his point of view.  His rhetoric is at once firm and decisive, yet also almost self-effacing at times, but in an astute and cunning manner that only serves to increase his power.  His client, Sextus Roscius, was, in the end, acquitted of patricide, and this case helped begin Cicero’s journey to rhetorical fame.

The defence speech, Pro Milone, is one of Cicero’s most famous, as he defended Titus Annius Milo against the charge of murdering the tyrant, Publius Clodius Pulcher.  It was an unusual defeat for him, but it is one speech for which we have an independent account from a 1st century scholar, Quintus Asconius Pedianus.  Because of the secondary source, we can target possible inconsistencies in Cicero’s presentation of the facts, which are backed by other evidence.  It is said that because the trial was so politically volatile and emotions so unstable, Cicero had to perform under unusual circumstances.  Ancient sources disagree as to the cause of Cicero’s less than stellar performance (some say threats from Clodian supporters, some say the soldiers stationed around the forum made him uneasy) but the end result was a vote of 38 to 13 of “guilty” and Milo was sent into exile.

In spite of the defeat, Milo did not seem to hold a grudge.  When Cicero sent a copy of this defence speech, written at a later date, to Milo, Milo joking replied that it was fortunate that a speech in that form had never been heard in court because he would then not be enjoying the wonderful mullets in Massalia (Marseilles – his place of exile).

Cicero denounces Cataline (1882-88)
fresco by Caesare Maccari
source Wikipedia

If one is familiar with the history of Clodius, one can only conclude that Milo did the empire a favour by getting rid of him.  Suspected of committing incest with his sister, Clodius employed gangs to terrorize the citizens of Rome and the surrounding country, for his own political and monetary benefit.  In 63 B.C., he was able to exile Cicero for his involvement in the illegal execution of five Catlinarian conspirators, and while Cicero was away, proceeded to demolish his elegant house, attempting to have the ground consecrated to deny any further right to build upon the site.  Upon Cicero’s return, Clodius’ gangster tactics continued, as he regularly had his gangs harass Cicero’s workmen as they attempted to re-build his home.

Also included in this book are the speeches, Pro Murena, Pro Archia, and Pro Caelio, where he defends against electoral malpractice, illegal exercise of citizen rights, and civil disturbance, respectively.

From some of these speeches, the reader is given a window into Rome during its more turbulent times, and one realizes, among the grandeur, learning and sophistication, there is continual political unrest and moral decay, boiling in a cesspool of men grasping wildly for prestige and power. It’s a book that probably should be read in “doses”, but the value of the historical import and the insight into human ambition cannot be underestimated.

C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy – Read With Me!

Did you know that besides the scholarly, theological and children’s books that C.S. Lewis wrote, he also delved into fantasy?  Set on Mars, Venus and Earth, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength are vastly different works that grasp the reader’s imagination in a wholly unique way.

Beginning September 1st and reading one book per month, my Goodreads Group, The Dead Writer’s Society will be delving into this trilogy, and I have volunteered to lead this intrepid group of readers.  Do you like adventure and surprise?  Have you ever wanted to travel to another planet?  Then come and join us!  Head over to The Dead Writer’s Society and when you request membership, say that I sent you.  It should be a stimulating conversation!

2nd Annual Beat-the-Heat Read-a-thon Update

While this read-a-thon does run until September 1st, I’m cutting it short because I am going to join the Bout of Book read-a-thon from August 18 to 24th.  This will effectively take me to the end of my holidays.  Honestly I don’t want to do any read-a-thons after that, because I know my reading time will seriously decrease and to keep track of it then, will depress me. 😀

This week was sort of a weird week.  I was fully planning to get tons of reading in but I had an unexpected holiday diversion.  I (by accident) swallowed a plum pit that got lodged in my throat.  Between an ambulance ride to a health centre, water ambulance off the island, another ambulance to the hospital and an emergency gastroscopy, my reading plans were obviously interrupted.

While finding this picture of a Canadian ambulance, I got a very interesting education on ambulances.  Why are so many of them yellow (Europe)?  It seems like an odd colour to choose other than that it would be easy to spot.  

So now that I’ve shared this completely embarrassing incident, let’s get to checking how my reading did go:

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton
~~  Chapter 1-4, p. 1-52 (52 pgs)

Defence Speeches by Cicero

~~ p. 107-138 (31 pgs)
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers
~~  p. 68-76  (8 pgs)
The Way of King Arthur by Christopher Hibbert
~~   p. 1-end (144 pgs)  

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

~~  Chapter 3-4, p. 47-end (65 pgs) 
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
~~  Chapter 8-21 p. 81-end (175 pgs) 


~~ p. 167-end  (137 pgs)

Planets in Peril by David C. Downing

~~ p. 1-30  (30 pgs)

Books completed:

Surprised by Joy (last week)
A Grief Observed
The Way of King Arthur
The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Total pages read:  642 pages

Wow!  I’m completely surprised that I was able to read that much!  I must keep plugging along though; I have a couple of “in-progress for a long time” books that I’d like to finish this week.  I know my two bombs for the summer are going to be Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, that I’d really hoped to finish, but time is running out and with it, any chance to squeeze out some time to read those books, I think.  In any case, it’s probably better to focus on what I have accomplished instead of what I haven’t.   Bout of Books, here I come!

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

“In the latter days of July in the year 185–, a most important question was for ten days hourly asked in the cathedral city of Barchester, and answered every hour in various ways —- Who was to be the new bishop?”

War has broken out in the city of Barchester.  The different factions are preparing by arming themselves with disingenuous weapons.  Tongues are being exercised, rapier wit is being sharpened, and soon a victor will be declared.

The new chaplain, Mr. Obadiah Slope has arrived in Barchester with the new bishop Proudie and his termagant wife .  Whilst Mr. Slope shows the high opinion he holds of himself, the clergy and certain townspeople take a strong dislike to his oily sycophancy and the fight is on.  Will Archdeacon Grantly be able to run Mr. Slope out of Barchester? Or will Mr. Slope become the new Dean?  Yet his marriage to the widow Eleanor Bold, Mr. Septimus Harding’s daughter, is a certainty.  Or is it?  Bertie Stanhope, the indolent son of Dr. Vessey Stanhope, is a contender for her affections but, oops ….. into the picture strides Mr. Arabin, vicar of St. Ewold and Grantly’s ally, to further muddy the marital waters.  And, as for the battle over the appointment of the new warden of Hiram’s Hospital, will Mr. Harding recover this honoured position, or will Mr. Quiverful triumph over his competitor, effectively providing his wife and children with the support they had heretofore been lacking?

In a town amongst characters, where black can seem white, and up suddenly down, the romping hilarity of the story firmly keeps the reader engaged and attentive.   Trollope, himself had a personal love for his masterpiece:  “In the writing of Barchester Towers I took great delight.  The bishop and Mrs. Proudie were very real to me, as were also the troubles of the archdeacon and the loves of Mr. Slope.”  Sadly his publishers were not initially in accord, claiming the novel to be full of “vulgarity and exaggeration.”  How fortunate, in spite of this initial critique, that this novel has captured the imagination and humour of readers worldwide for nearly 160 years, and has given the people of Barchester an immorality that was originally in jeopardy.

The Barsetshire Chronicles