“Alas, Poor YORICK!”: The Death and Life of Laurence Sterne

Detail from Thomas Patch’s etching Laurence Sterne, alias Tristram Shandy: “And When Death Himself Knocked at My Door”(1769) — Metropolitan Museum of Art Looking at the engagement with mortality so important to the novelist’s groundbreaking work. By Dr. Ian Campbell Ross / 03.07.2018 Emeritus Professor of 18th-Century Studies Trinity College, Dublin This year brings two notable anniversaries in[…]

The ‘Oral’ Nature of African Unwritten Literature

The significance of performance in actualization, transmission, and composition. Audience and occasion. Implications for the study of oral literature. Oral art as literature. By Dr. Ruth Finnegan Emeritus Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology The Open University Introduction Africa possesses both written and unwritten traditions. The former are relatively well known—at any rate the recent[…]

The Curious World of Isaac D’Israeli

D’Israeli as he appears in the frontispiece to Vol.I of the 1880 Armstrong and Son edition of Curiosities of Literature – Internet Archive Marvin Spevack introduces the Curiosities of Literature, the epic cornucopia of essays on all things literary by Isaac D’Israeli: a scholar, man of letters and father of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. By the Late Dr.[…]

Percy Jackson, The Hunger Games, and Why Your Kids Need to Know Classical Culture

A family visiting the Getty Villa explores ancient art, history, and mythology through frescoes from the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum. The influence of classical mythology lives on in our culture. Here are some tips for exploring this subject with kids. By Erin Branham / 10.07.2012 Education Specialist for Family Programs Getty Villa Teaching kids[…]

The Growth of Literacy in Western Europe from 1500 to 1800

Class portrait, unknown school, somewhere in England (1860s) / Scanned by pellethepoet, Flickr, Creative Commons By Dr. Robert A. Houston / 11.28.2011 Professor of Modern History University of St. Andrews Abstract Between ca. 1500 and ca. 1800 most Western European societies moved decisively from restricted to mass literacy. This article outlines the spectrum of skills[…]

The Dutch Republic as the Center of the European Book Trade in the 17th Century

By Dr. Paul Hoftijzer / 11.23.2015 Senior University Lecturer in Medieval and Early Modern Studies Universiteit Leiden Abstract In the seventeenth century, the Dutch Republic witnessed its Golden Age. The reasons for this phenomenon are diverse, but it impacted all branches of Dutch society, including the production, distribution and consumption of printed media. The book[…]

Emma Goldman’s “Anarchism Without Adjectives”

Mugshot of Emma Goldman taken in Chicago, on 10 September, 1901 after she was arrested on suspicion of involvement with the assassination of US President William McKinley — Wikimedia Commons An introduction to Goldman’s life and her particular brand of anarchism. By Dr. Kathy E. Ferguson Professor in Political Science and Women’s Studies University of Hawai`i Emma[…]

Mark Twain’s Adventures in Love as an Aspiring Author Courting a Beautiful Heiress

The wife and daughters of Mark Twain. Albert Bigelow Paine By Dr. Richard Gunderman, MD, PhD / 02.12.2018 Chancellor’s Professor of Medicine, Liberal Arts, and Philanthropy Indiana University The year 2018 marks the 150th anniversary of one of the great courtships in American history, the wooing of an unenthusiastic 22-year-old Olivia Langdon by a completely smitten 32-year-old Samuel[…]

‘Iphigenia in Aulis’ on the Stage and in Art

Sandra Marquez as Clytemnestra and Stephanie Andrea Barron as Iphigenia in the Court Theater production of Euripides’s Iphigenia in Aulis at the Getty Villa, September 7–30, 2017. Photo: Joe Mazza The tragic story of sacrifice resonated across ancient Greece and Rome, where art provides evidence of the play’s enduring appeal. By Dr. Mary Louise Hart / 09.14.2017 Associate Curator[…]

The Dreams of an Inventor in 1420

Johannes de Fontana, Bellicorum instrumentorum liber (1420), BSB Cod.icon. 242, f. 59v Bennett Gilbert peruses the sketchbook of 15th-century engineer Johannes de Fontana, a catalogue of designs for a variety of fantastic and often impossible inventions, including fire-breathing automatons, pulley-powered angels, and the earliest surviving drawing of a magic lantern device. By Bennett Gilbert Instructor in Philosophy[…]

Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ in Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Art

Domenico di Michelino, Dante holding the Divine Comedy, 1465 (Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence) By Matthew Collins / 12.30.2015 PhD Candidate in the Italian Language Harvard University When you think of Hell, what images fill your imagination?  Your mind might first conjure up a monstrous satanic figure, and then you may further fill in the picture[…]

Early 18th-Century European ‘Spectators’, or ‘Moral Weeklies’

Combined image of Beer Street and Gin Lane, by William Hogarth / Wikimedia Commons By Dr. Klaus-Dieter Ertler / 06.28.2012 Institute for Romance Studies University of Graz Introduction The early eighteenth century witnessed the birth in England of the “Spectators”, a journalistic and literary genre that developed in the wake of the Glorious Revolution (1688). Beginning in 1709[…]

Seeing Joyce

Photograph Joyce had made in Zurich, 1915, and sent to Michael Healy, Nora’s uncle. Source: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University The works of James Joyce entered the public domain in 2012. Frank Delaney asks whether we should perhaps now stop trying to read Joyce and instead make visits to him as[…]

Thinking about Sisyphus (Or, the Afterlife with Some Rock ‘n’ Roll)

Detail of Colossal Krater from Altamura, about 350 B.C., Greek, made in Apulia, South Italy. Terracotta, 63 in. high x 35 7/16 in. diam. National Archaeological Museum of Naples, 81666. By permission of the Italian Ministry of Heritage and Culture and Tourism. National Archaeological Museum of Naples – Conservation and Restoration Laboratory The eternal suffering of Sisyphus,[…]

The Tale of Beatrix Potter

A teenage Beatrix Potter with her pet mouse Xarifa, 1885, from Cotsen Children’s Library, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University – Etsy Journal The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck – in all, thirty-three books bearing the name “Beatrix Potter” have[…]

Ghostwriter and Ghost: The Strange Case of Pearl Curran & Patience Worth

Pearl Curran in 1919 – St. Louis Post-Dispatch In early 20th-century St. Louis, Pearl Curran claimed to have conjured a long-dead New England puritan named Patience Worth through a Ouija board. Although mostly unknown today, the resulting books, poems, and plays that Worth “dictated” to Curran earned great praise at the time. Ed Simon investigates the[…]

Edgar Allan Poe’s Richmond Birthday Bash

By Dr. Bruce Chadwick / 01.05.2018 Lecturer in History and Film Rutgers University “Poe foresaw the darkness of generations far beyond his own.”— Stephen King How famous is writer Edgar Allan Poe, the author of the chilling The Raven poem, dozens of memorable short stories, such as “The Black Cat,” and the inventor of detective fiction? Chris[…]

Homer and Comparative Mythology

By Dr. Gregory Nagy Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature Professor of Comparative Literature Director, Center for Hellenic Studies Harvard University Still under the spell of Heinrich Schliemann’s rediscovery of Troy, students of ancient Greece have been accustomed to regard the Greek epic tradition of Homer as a reporting of events that really happened in the[…]

Bad Air: Pollution, Sin, and Science Fiction in William Delisle Hay’s The Doom of the Great City (1880)

Coloured aquatint, ca. 1862, depicting a man covering his mouth with a handkerchief, walking through a smoggy London street / Wellcome Library Deadly fogs, moralistic diatribes, debunked medical theory — Brett Beasley explores a piece of Victorian science fiction considered to be the first modern tale of urban apocalypse. By Brett Beasley PhD Student in[…]

The Eternal Guffaw: John Leech and The Comic History of Rome

Detail from John Leech’s illustration “Tarquinius Superbus makes himself king” featured in The Comic History of Rome – Internet Archive At the beginning of the 1850s, two stalwarts from the heart of London-based satirical magazine Punch, Gilbert Abbott à Beckett and John Leech, cast their mocking eye a little further back in time and published The Comic History of Rome.[…]

Ossian, the European National Epic (1760-1810)

Ossian’s Cave front door at The Hermitage, Scotland / Photo by Roger Griffith, Wikimedia Commons By Dr. Gauti Kristmannsson / 11.09.2015 Professor of Translation Studies Universitet Háskóli Íslands Introduction Fragments of ancient poetry, collected in the highlands of Scotland and tr. from the Galic or Erse language / Oxford University The Poems of Ossian are a[…]

Fairies and Pagan Mythologies in the Medieval Spanish Ballad

Modern rendering of a tree fairy By Dr. David A. Wacks / 05.24.2017 Professor of Spanish Department of Romance Languages University of Oregon It is well known that many pre-Christian beliefs and practices survive some fifteen hundred years after the Christianization of the Iberian Peninsula (see my earlier post on Asturian mythology). Some of these have been[…]

As a Lute out of Tune: Robert Burton’s Melancholy

‘ Frontispiece to the 6th edition of Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton (published under the pseudonym Democritus Junior) – Internet Archive In 1621 Robert Burton first published his masterpiece The Anatomy of Melancholy, a vast feat of scholarship examining in encyclopaedic detail that most enigmatic of maladies. Noga Arikha explores the book, said to be the favorite of[…]

The Mystery of Lewis Carroll

Self-portait taken by Dodgson, circa 1895 – Harry Ransom Center, UT Austin The author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland remains to this day an enigmatic figure. Jenny Woolf explores the joys and struggles of this brilliant, secretive, and complex man, creator of one of the world’s best-loved stories. By Jenny Woolf / 07.09.2014 When Charles L. Dodgson was[…]

The Hero as Savior in Classical Literature and Mythology

Triumphant Achilles dragging Hector’s lifeless body in front of the Gates of Troy. (From a panoramic fresco on the upper level of the main hall of the Achilleion) / Wikimedia Commons By Dr. Gregory Nagy Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature Professor of Comparative Literature Director, Center for Hellenic Studies Harvard University The meaning of sōzein and sōtēr The key word here is the[…]

The Hero’s Agony in the Bacchae of Euripides

Pentheus torn apart by Agave and Ino. Attic red-figure lekanis (cosmetics bowl) lid, ca. 450-425 BCE / Photo by Jastrow, Louvre Museum, Paris By Dr. Gregory Nagy Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature Professor of Comparative Literature Director, Center for Hellenic Studies Harvard University The meaning of agōn The key word here is agōn, plural agōnes. I give three[…]