War & Peace Notes #2

Well, writing every day hasn’t been going very well lately! How can I make sure I leave time for this? I’m overwhelmed with what I want to do and need to schedule the time and stick to it.

I’m still madly in love with this book! Not since “Pride & Prejudice” have I yelled out loud while reading a book. I’m amazed that everyone has not read it. On to my notes!

Page 155 “you think it’s very easy to capture marshals while sitting on a sofa in front of a fireplace.” That needs no explanation.

Page 156 Prince Andrei is starting to see what a little part he plays in the grand scheme of things. He comes to Brunn to report about his troop’s victory and finds that no one really cares. There are bigger things going on. Lost in our own world, we tend to forget that the world is large. In the grand scheme of things, no one cares or is affected by your taxes going up or your voting in a new mayor. It’s only important to you.

Page 174-175 “The further ahead he moved, the closer to the enemy, the more orderly and cheerful the troops looked.” “All the faces were as calm as though everything was happening not in view of the enemy, prior to an action in which half the division would be left in the field, but somewhere in their home country, in expectation of a peaceful stay.” When I read this I noted that maybe just how we all react in a crisis but reading farther on, I believe they are calm because there is no question about what they need to do. Further from the front line there is less to do and more time to kill. The soldiers are most comfortable when they have no choices to make.

Page 178 “I say that if it were possible to know what there will be after death, none of us would be afraid of death.” My thoughts exactly. I also heard that it isn’t death we are afraid of but dying itself because it might be painful. We’re really afraid of pain. They were talking about it in “All’s Quiet On the Western Front”.

Page 190 “…the thought that he, an exemplary officer, with many years of service, to blame for nothing, might be blamed before his superiors for negligence of inefficiency, struck him so much that, at the same moment, forgetting both the disobedient cavalry colonel and his own dignity as a general, and above all totally forgetting danger and the sense of self-preservation, he gripped the pommel, spurred his horse, and galloped off to his regiment under a hail of bullets…” Not a very noble picture of war. I’m starting to get the idea that Tolstoy is not a big fan of war or the military.

Page 199 Prince Andrei is becoming disillusioned with the military service he dreamed about. Officer’s lying to save their hides and throwing subordinates under the bus. It’s so sad to watch his feelings turn. You can almost touch it.

That’s all I have today since I’m rushing. Sigh. I need to block my time better in the morning but my son is sick and wanted to watch a movie and make cookies. How can I refuse my giant teenage babies?!

“War & Peace” – Part 1

I started reading “War & Peace” by Leo Tolstoy on December 18th. It’s been on my reading list for years but I’ve been putting off because, well, it’s Tolstoy and it’s 1200 pages long! I’ve been so pleasantly surprised since I started reading it. It’s wonderful and I’ve been sucked into the story, not wanting to put it down. The thing that has really helped me most is the list of characters and their relationships at the front of the book. I keep flipping back to it to remember who is who. Keeping track of who is doing what in a book this long and with each character having several names, has been the hardest part of reading it, but the story is amazing!

I’ll be writing about the book all this month but I thought I’d start now with a couple of very interesting quotes.

Here’s the first one! It’s from Volume One, Part One, II. They are at a party.

“For Pierre, brought up abroad, this soiree of Anna Pavlovna’s was the first he had seen in Russia. He knew that all the intelligentsia of Petersburg was gathered there, and, like a child in a toy shop, he looked everywhere at once. He kept fearing to miss intelligent conversations that he might have listened to. Looking at the self-assured and elegant expressions on the faces gathered here, he kept expecting something especially intelligent. Finally, he went up to Morio. The conversation seemed interesting to him, and he stopped, waiting for a chance to voice his thoughts, as young people like to do.”

I can see my older son doing just this at a party. I only hope he gets the chance to move in circles where the topics range farther than how many times the mailboxes have been broken into and what new fast-food chain is opening in town.

Natasha is a young girl with her doll who enters the party chased by her sisters and brother into her mother’s arms. A woman speaking with her mother asked her a question about her doll.

“Natasha did not like the condescension to childish talk in which the guest addressed her. She made no reply and gave the guest a serious look.”

I’ve gotten this look from one of my nephew’s. Children don’t appreciate being talked to differently than adults. I’ve learned my lesson and never assume anything. I treat children as I would any adult that came into my presence.

“Up to now, thank God, I’ve been a friend to my children and have enjoyed their full trust,” said the countess, repeating the error of many parents who suppose that their children have no secrets from them.”

Of course, they do! No matter how close you are with someone, you always have secrets. Some things are just private. We need to respect that, even with children, and know they will have some secrets but be there when they want help with them.

I’m loving this part of the book. You could call it “Parenting With Tolstoy”!

“Well, so you see, if I were strict with her, if I forbade her…God knows what they’d do on the sly…”

and

“One is always too clever with the older children, wanting to do something extraordinary,”

And here’s one that makes me think of “A Thomas Jefferson Education”. It’s a dream I had when my boys were little that never manifested itself other than the reading aloud part.

“On entering the drawing room, where the princesses were usually to be found, he greeted the ladies, who were sitting over their embroidery and a book, which one of them was reading aloud.”

And how’s this for an attitude to have?

“I’ve got four sons in the army, and I’m not grieving. It’s all God’s will: you can die in your sleep, and God can spare you in battle,”

That’s the attitude I try to have about my sons. You have to do what you love, what fuels you. You can’t just hold them at home and keep them safe forever.

There’s so much humanity in this book that never changes. It warms my heart to read about society, politics, wars, and families from the distant past. It shows me that there is continuity. It’s not currently the end of the world.

Here’s some from Part Two.

“The halted infantry soldiers, crowding in the trampled mud by the bridge, gazed at the clean, foppish hussars going past them in order, with that special feeling of ill will, alienation, and mockery with which different branches of the military usually meet each other.”

I’ll leave you with this because it’s just so classic. It could have been written in a modern novel about politicians.

“Bilibin’s conversation was constantly sprinkled with wittily original and well-turned phrases of general interest. These phrases were manufactured in Bilibin’s inner laboratory, as if intentionally of a portable nature, so that society nonentities could readily remember them and pass them on from drawing room to drawing room.”

You know, stuff you can share on Facebook!

Longing for Real Education

When I was in college at the University of LaVerne, we did “The Threepenny Opera”. I remember building the set and painting it. I was very proud of that set. There were some catchy tunes in the show as well, that I still hear once in a while and smile at the memory of the production. But I don’t remember learning anything about the play, its authors, or its history. I remember learning about production work; designing, painting, lighting. I remember hearing the performance classes in the hall as I painted and set light angles. But I don’t remember really reading the play and understanding where it came from and what it was meant to portray. It came up in a book I’m reading today and it sounds so fascinating. I’m a tad disappointed at my short college experience once again.

I wasn’t planning on going to college but during my senior year of high school, our theater department participated in a university contest of sorts. Everyone brought their best work and entered it in several different divisions. This was the first one I’d been to that had a division for “design” which was what I was primarily interested in. I won first place that weekend and fell in love with the campus and the theater department there. The next year I was enrolled and looking forward to “real” education far beyond the boring and repetitive stuff we were learning (again) in public high school.

One year into university life and I was bitterly disappointed. The same old “general education” classes, taught the same way. The only good part was the freedom I had in the larger theater realm. I went for one more semester and dropped out when I got a part-time job at Knott’s in their Entertainment Department. That proved to be a great move on my part, contrary to the naysayers around me.

What I did miss was the chance at a “liberal education”. I wanted to read philosophy, learn more history, biography, and art. I wanted to read the classics and discuss them with people that were yearning to learn more about the world as well. All I got was training. Theater was a great creative outlet and we did have some awesome discussions in my theater history class, but other than that I was stuck in math, grammar, and basic history filled with dates of wars and political wins and losses. I was bored, so I left.

Here I am twenty-five years later just scratching the surface of classic literature and philosophy with no one to sit and talk to about it. I think that’s the one thing I’d love to snap my fingers and have in my life; a community of open-minded learners to sit and discuss books and ideas with over coffee and pie.

Final thoughts on “The Aeneid” by Virgil

Page 189 Aeneas searching for the golden bough that Sibyl sent him for. The image this line brings to my mind is so clear. This is why I love this book! “As mistletoe in the dead of winter’s icy forests leafs with life on a tree that never gave it birth, embracing the smooth trunk with its pale yellow bloom, so glowed the golden foliage against the ilex evergreen, so rustled the sheer gold leaf in the light breeze.”

Written just before the birth of Christ, The Aeneid is a tale of the origins of Rome. Is it true? Or all a myth? Was Rome founded by a group of Trojans that survived the war?

Page 223 “I’ll plead for the help I need, wherever it may be – if I cannot sway the heavens, I’ll wake the powers of hell!” Seems a bit defeating to me.

Page 228 The gods make the people fight. There’s a scene here where both human sides are at the beginnings of a truce when one of the gods flings a spear and kills a man that makes both sides take up arms again and continue the battle. Why would the god do that? They have some ultimate plan that needs to be carried out by humans? Or, more likely, the author of the story is making an excuse for something that happened between the humans. Some guy took it upon himself to hurl a spear because he was crazy or something. So, of course, what made him crazy was the gods and they were using him to further some plan of theirs.

Page 243 Again, the words, they make my heart ache. “Watching it all, the Trojan hero heaved in a churning sea of anguish, his thoughts racing, here, there, probing his options, shifting to this plan, that – as quick as flickering light thrown off by water in bronze bowls reflects the sun or radiant moon, now flittering near and far, now rising to strike a ceiling’s gilded framework.”

Page 255 “With those words on his lips, he gave his wife the embraces both desired, then sinking limp on her breast he courted peaceful sleep that stole throughout his body.”

Page 272 “Nisus asks, ‘do the gods light this fire in our hearts or does each man’s mad desire become his god?” How’s that for a deep question that we still ask ourselves thousands of years later?

Page 309 “Each man has his day, and the time of life is brief for all, and never comes again. But to lengthen out one’s fame with action, that’s the work of courage.” And action is war and death is not the only way. This story is about the founding of a nation but many of these lines about humanity can be applied to peaceful things. We can sit at home and be safe, working our job and paying our bills, raising our children and taking no chances, but are we really living?

Page 318 “Grim repose and an iron sleep press down his eyes and seal their light in a night that never ends.” He’s dead.

The story isn’t told as Aeneas is the good guy and everyone he encounters that keep him from finding his ancestral home are bad guys. They are all told as pawns in a huge game of the gods. Sorry I had to kill your family to get you to do what I wanted you to! No worries! I totally understand that it’s the will of the gods that you get my land and kill my sons. See you at the feast tomorrow my new master!

Page 381 In the middle of a battle, one man loses his sword and is about to die but a god brings it back to him, magically, and he wins the battle. I can’t imagine what this would look like in real life. What actually happened in this battle that made them describe it as the gods intervened?

And they all live happily ever after as Romans. I love it! I’d like to read this again and pay closer attention to the character of Aeneas. Does he change as he finds his new land? Does he become a better leader of men? I get a bit swept up in individual scenes and forget the bigger picture when I read. What I’d really like to have a group of people to actually talk about this book with. I can read other people’s thoughts on the book but then it’s like reading another book to me. Talking, out loud, with others about the same book, hearing their take on character and story, is what would really help me move forward. Oh, well. Maybe some day, right?!

Notes on “The Aeneid” by Virgil (Fagles) – Part 2

Page 100 His wife Creusa is lost. “I saw her stricken ghost, my own Creusa’s shade. But larger than life, the life I’d known so well.”…”My dear husband, why so eager to give yourself to such mad flights of grief? It’s not without the will of the gods these things have to come to pass.”…”The Great Mother of the Gods detains me on these shores. And now farewell. Hold dear the son we share, we love together.” I’m sobbing here. I love it that in stories you can have such concrete evidence that you are on the right track, that everything is in the plan.

Page 105 “To what extremes won’t you compel our hearts, you accursed lust for gold?” One of those things that has apparently never changed!

Page 110 “The Harpies…no monsters on earth more cruel, no scourge more savage, no wrath of the gods has ever raised its head from the Styx’s waters. The faces of girls, but birds! A loathsome ooze discharges from the bellies, talons for hands, their jaws deathly white with a hunger never sated.” Eeek! They’re nasty.

Page 123 “We press him hard – who is he? Who are his parents?” Here’s something that has changed a lot over the years. Even in stories, no one cares where you came from or who your parents were anymore. I wonder if that says something about our culture? We don’t seem much interested in any kind of history anymore. The only thing that matters is right now.

Page 129 “But, oh, how little they know, the omniscient seers. What good are prayers and shrines to a person mad with love? The flame keeps gnawing into her tender marrow hour by hour and deep in her heart the silent wound lives on.” Poor Dido, left all alone with this love in heart for Aeneas. I think unrequited love has to be the worst thing in the world. It can be the start of something wonderful or terrible depending on the person it hits. I wonder if the gods we make up in our minds can understand it.

Page 133 “Rumor, swiftest of all the evils of the world. She thrives on speed, stronger for every stride, slight with fear at first, soon soaring into the air she treads the ground and hides her head in the clouds. She is the last, they say, our Mother Earth produced. Bursting in rage against the gods, she bore a sister for Coeus and Enceladus: Rumor, quicksilver afoot and swift on the wing, a monster, horrific, huge and under every feather on her body – what a marvel – an eye that never sleeps and as many tongues as eyes and as many raucous mouths and ears pricked up for news.” It goes on another paragraph. It sounds like rumor is the root of all evil. She sure seems like she’s found a good home in modern times. She spreads even more quickly and does more damage in our modern times. She’s found an even more perfect disguise in the form of social media!

Page 162 It’s scenes like this one that make me love this book! “A laughingstock, shorn of glory, she came crawling in…Like a snake caught, as they often are, on a causeway, crushed by a bronze wheel or heavy rock flung by a traveler – trampled, left half-dead, trying to slip away, writhing in gnarled coils, no hope. Part fighting mad, its eyes blazing, its hissing head puffed high – part crippled, wounds cutting its pace, struggling in knots, twitching, twisting round itself. So the ship limped in,…”

Notes on “The Aeneid” by Virgil (Translated by Robert Fagles) – Part 1

Years ago I tried to read Homer’ Odyssey and lost interest right away. Someone recommended Fagles’ translation and I decided to try it. It was wonderful! And I read The Illiad and The Odyssey strait through without a problem. Some of it I read to my sons as a bedtime story. They loved listening to it. They didn’t understand all of what was going on but the rhythm of the writing lured them in to listen longer. I bought “The Aeneid” in the hopes that Fagles would do it justice as well and I was not disappointed. The story is gripping and it amazes me to think that this book is thousands of years old and here I am reading it in my livingroom. I wonder if Virgil knows. I especially liked reading the translator’s postscript! There was so much to learn there about the process of translating itself. It was enlightening to think about how you not only translate individual words, but the feeling. And what if the book was written a thousand years ago? How do we really even know what feeling the author was really trying to get across?! Anyway, on with my notes!

Page 65 “There is a country – the Greeks called it Hesperia, Land of the West, an ancient land, mighty in war and rich in soil.” It thought this line was funny because we live near a town called Hesperia and race dirt bikes there often. I doubt it is mighty in war and it is definitely not rich in soil since it is the middle of the desert.

Page 68 “Schooled in suffering, now I learn to comfort those who suffer too.” Nice thought, isn’t it? To help those suffering to overcome it or bear through it because you’ve already been there.

Page 98 “If you are going off to die, she begged, then take us with you too, to face the worst together, but if your battles teach you to hope in arms, the arms you buckle on, your first duty should be to guard our house.” Wow! I’m amazed at how few words he used to convey such a strong message.