Sunday, 2 October 2016

Literature from Gilgamesh to Bob Dylan

The good thing with moving books from one place to the other is that you discover books that you have forgotten that you have. This is especially the case for rather big, fact books. I have had a book called Levande Litteratur (Living Literature) for many, many years. It is written by a famous Swedish writer/journalist/translator, Tore Zetterholm. He tells the history of the written word from the Greek antiquity to modern times. This is a book which you should enjoy in small doses at the time, so I use it (while here in Sweden) as my breakfast reading.

I thought it would be interesting to see how many of these great work of arts that I have on my shelves, which ones I have read, which ones are still to be read and which ones I would like to read. I will try not to anger the gods with a possible 'hybris', so will try to be realistic in what I know I will manage to read.

It all starts with Gilgamesh and the Bible. Although I will not be able to read the Gilgamesh epic I like to read some of the stories of the Bible. The very first written words came from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia, India and China. And then came the Greeks. Their influence on literature is still acknowledged today. The Romans took over, but could not quite come up to the standard of the Greeks. One of the greatest storyteller is Homer's The Illiad which I have at home and have read about half through. Time to finish it off. I also happened to have one of the great poets of the Roman times, Catullus. Time to bring down that book from the shelves, dust it and open up to read some love poetry. I also read about Augustinus and his confessions, and I remember that they were given to me recently by a friend of mine. Hybris beware! I might not be able to read them, but will give it a try.

We are entering the Middle Ages and here we find one of the most famous early writings, which I have actually read. That is Beowulf, an Anglo-Saxon epos from the 8th century, about a hero killing off troll and dragons. Going further south, we return to Italy and one of the most famous writers of all times; Dante Alighieri and his La Divina Commedia. I have had this book for ages, but still not read it. Now is obviously the time! Further north the Icelanders were early on with telling their folktales to new generations and finally wrote them down. The Eddas tell us about the Norse mythology. I happen to have this as well, so there is no excuse anymore.

Going from the wild people of the north, down to the south and the Renaissance in Italy. It started there around the 16th century, which was 200 years before it came to the northern parts of Europe. Machiavelli was an Italian historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist and writer and an official in the Florentine Republic. His masterpiece is The Prince. I read it many years ago, but should maybe read it again. Here a few of his advice to the prince.
It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.
If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.
The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.

The last one for today will be Giovanni Boccaccio and his Decamerone, which also happens to be on my book shelves. Here one might find rather daring stories, even with todays more open attitude to love and relationships. Have you read any of the great classics? What would you recommend?

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