“Today, two things, seem to be modern: the analysis of life and the flight from life…One practises anatomy of the inner life of one’s mind, or one dreams. Reflection or fantasy, mirror image or image dream. Old furniture is modern, and so are recent neuroses… Paul Bourget is modern, and Buddha; splitting atoms and playing ball games with the cosmos. Modern is the dissection of a mood, a sigh, a scruple; and modern is the instinctive, almost somnambulistic surrender to every revelation of beauty, to a harmony of colours, to a glittering metaphor, to a wondrous allegory.” 

Hugo von Hofannsthal, 1893.


The elasticity of modernity, as a thing and as a concept. Even today it is highly pertinent.


2018 Reads

What I intend to read tends not to change so much as I seem not to be able to decide what to read; I often spend time thinking of reading lists etc and then read a little and become disenchanted. I recently started to read Ali Smith’s How to be Both, and only a few pages in I found that I was forcing myself to read it; I was ridiculously listless, mentally, whilst reading it. I was browsing the words, not reading them. So I stopped reading it and gave one last thought on what to read before firmly committing to a fiction list for this year, concentrating on major reads, that is to say, books I want to read this year but not consecutively as the list will be punctuated by other books. Thus:

The White Peacock – D.H Lawrence

The Secret History – Donna Tart (A ‘friend’ ‘recommended’ this)

Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf (re-read)

Odyssey – Homer (read parts but not cover to cover; strictly speaking, not fiction)

Lolita – Vladimir Nabakov

To The Lighthouse – Woolf

I, Claudius – Robert Graves (It is on my shelf and I will try but I suspect my interest will not hold)

The Italian – Ann Radcliffe

Sons and Lovers – D.H Lawrence

Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence

England, My England – D.H. Lawrence

Bel Ami – Guy De Maupassant

Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

The Satyricon – Petronius (I have read bits but not the entirety of it; I am looking forward to this)

The Golden Ass – Apuleius (same as above)

The Trial – Franz Kafka

Black Snow – Mikhail Bulgakov

The White Guard – Mikhail Bulgakov

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte (partially read a few years ago)

Southern Mail – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Night Flight – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Daphnis and Chloe – Longus

The Age of Reason – Jean-Paul Sartre

In Love – Alfred Hayes


My other intent this year, is to branch out and read some Shakespeare again as I have not read any since I sat my A-levels over a decade ago. I started reading D.H. Lawrence’s The White Peacock yesterday and I intend to read Donna Tart’s The Secret History directly after; subsequently, wherever I am lead by my whims, I will go.








“We are told that the study of literature ‘cultivates the taste, educates the sympathies and enlarges the mind’. These are all excellent things, only we cannot examine tastes and sympathies. Examiners must have technical and positive information to examine.”  Professor Edward Freeman, 1887.


A revealing quote, less about the nature of literature, more about the aims of ‘history’. In time, history acquiesces to ‘literature’ for a brief moment.

Scythians: A Succinct Survey

During one of my brief forays into the city I used to dwell in late last year, I decided, on a whim, to visit the British Museum’s latest exhibition – Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia. I had not intended to view the exhibition on that particular trip but a fortuitous turn of events occasioned an unexpected free morning and as I was in Bloomsbury anyway, I decamped from where I was to go to my former default location when free in London: the British Museum.

The Scythians exhibition provides a somewhat well-structured but non-chronological look into an ancient culture that, at least till the past century, has always been looked at through the eyes of the ancient Greeks for many. A nomadic peoples, and forerunners on the steppe of the Huns and Mongols, they roamed from north of the Black Sea, across Siberia and the northern reaches of Iran, to the vastness of what is now northern China around the first millennium BC.

The exhibition’s narrative is one that cleaves away from the usual caricature we see in popular culture of nomadic peoples – people that are bereft of cultural expression or lack a complex society, essentially, people that conform to the lower-end of the now-obsolete and reductionist model of civilisational advancement. One of the first items a visitor sees is an fantastically ornate piece of workmanship, similar to the one below:


Gold belt buckle. 4th to 3rd Century BC.


The above is a fantastic example of the sophisticated workmanship of the ancient Scythians. A belt buckle, it is an item that has yielded much interpretation and answers about the mythological beliefs that many Scythians may have held but it is the production process of the item that is more fascinating. The separate wax moulds used to create the overall item is something that was highlighted by the British Museum: various pieces focused more on the production process rather than interpretation and this was refreshing to see. Often, after the gold appliqués were cast, stones and gems were inlaid and after the piece was polished and finished, it must have looked glorious.

As one moves into the main exhibition, a certain amount of light is shed on the history of scholarship on the ancient Scythians and particularly on the process by which various Tsars consolidated laws on archaeological fieldwork from the 17th Century onwards as well as laws relating to the possession of Scythian artifacts. The Kunstkamera was commissioned by Peter the Great as Russia’s first dedicated Museum and the initial state collection of Scythian artefacts were kept there. Various engravings of the Kunstkamera by Grigory Anikeyevich Kachalov were on display near a glorious painting of Peter the Great by Godfrey Kneller in the late 17th Century lent by the Royal Collection specifically for this exhibition.


Portrait of Peter the Great by Godfrey Kneller given to the King of England during Peter’s tour of Europe.


A significant number of the items depicted animals, anthropomorphically or realistically to their perception, and it is clear that animals but particularly horses were central to many aspects of the lives of the Scythians. The colour palette on show as well as the range of styles and items display the vibrant culture of the Scythians: from fake beards to delicately woven multi-coloured cloth and ornate weaponry, the artistic range is breathtaking. Of course, the age old problem of thievery reared its ugly head at various points in the exhibition as we are told that various tombs were cleared out both in the past few centuries as well as in antiquity.

The cultural contacts with the Achamaenids, Chinese, Greek and other peoples are emphasised, not least in a few items and vases that displayed much cultural and artistic transference. One especially fortunate accident of nature and geography meant that a piece of ancient cheese preserved by the environment it was in, was on display as well!! That a culture left an unwritten past is confounding to modern viewers as well as our need to know more about the past but the exhibition display is fantastically detailed and the items themselves form a rich narrative about the lives of Scythians, their artistic, cultural and ritualistic inclinations that leave the viewer just about sated but yearning for more.

I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition and there was much more on display than I could write here about. I believe it closes in a few days time but it is absolutely worth seeing. I honestly thought nothing could top the ‘Flaming June’ exhibition at Leighton House earlier last year in 2017 as my favourite exhibition of 2017 but this Scythians one did.



Images are for review purposes only.


Brief Review of ‘The Rise and Fall of The House of Medici’ by Christopher Hibbert

The Medici are one of those families of which a reputation centred around ostensible luxury has arisen over the centuries: vaunted for their sophistication and prosperousness and vilified for their ‘usury’ and corruption. What cannot be denied is their effect on Florentine, and Italian, history as well as their effects on all cultural developments that ensconce the renaissance.

This book is one I bought a long time ago and has subsequently been sitting on my bookshelf, content to be left alone. And so, with some anticipation, now that I have widened the scope of what I read, I picked it up and was instantly absorbed. A fairly small book, given it covers several centuries, it is over 300 pages long. Hibbert, a popular writer, is a perpetual biographer of the past; the temporal range of his writings cover well above a Millenia of human history.

It would be a gross mischaracterisation to portray this book as one one written in the vein of a ‘grand narrative’ or ‘diplomatic history’ of many history books even if the Medici were at the forefront of Florentine political life for several centuries. Rather, Hibbert organises his book as essentially a series of separate but interlinked biographies of the most popular member of the Medici family. This is punctuated especially by a constant focus on renaissance culture; various sculptors and artists make their way into Hibbert’s prose and there is an occasional whiff of the classical cultures of Greece and Rome hanging over his descriptions:


“Yet for Florence, as Cosimo had foreseen, the Council had far happier consequences. As well as profiting the trade of the city, it was an important influence on what was already being spoken of as the Rinascimento. The presence of so many Greek scholars in Florence provided an incalculable stimulus to the quickening interest in classical texts and classical history, in classical art and philosophy, and particularly in the study of Plato, that great hero of the humanists, for so long overshadowed by his pupil, Aristotle. (Hibbert; p.164)

The sensitivity Hibbert shows to the wider cultural influence of the Medici is interspersed throughout, and it is thoroughly delectable to read; his descriptions of the patronage of Michelangelo by Lorenzo is heavily touched upon as well as Cosimo’s interactions with Brunelleschi. Hibbert naturally focuses on the earlier years of the Medici: their nascence, fantastic rise, and stay at the apex of Italian city-state politics for two-three centuries. The later years of the Medici (16-18thC) occupy a smaller proportion of the book which is no great tragedy as the earlier Medici were certainly the more interesting to read about as opposed to the Tuscan rulers of the later Medici family.

Of course, Hibbert is attentive to religious matters, particularly the two Medici Popes and especially Leo X. What is at the fore of Hibbert’s re-telling of the fortunes of the Medici is his succinct but bountiful prose; he has clearly inquired into every facet of the Medici’s history and brought out the best and most alluring stories. Granted, there is a deficit of social history but that is to be expected in a popular book of this kind, whose primary readership are perhaps less interested in the conditions of the lower Italian classes in 14th Century Florence than the opulence and refinement of the Medici and other noble families in Florence.

There is little in the way of negativity that I can write about the book save that I dislike that many plates and illustrations, like with this book, are placed in the centre of the book. This, I actively dislike yet I can imagine it being a practical publishing issue but it would be good to not have to constantly flick through a book to see an illustration of what an author is describing.

Nevertheless, the extensive bibliography, notes on artworks; portraits; sculptures and buildings are to be commended, if only for the opportunity it provides for readers to find more books based on the notes. The book is a fantastic introduction to the Medici family and by extension, some elements of the Rinascimento.

Stoic Logic.

“By the term ‘Logic’ today we usually mean the formal analysis of arguments. While this sort of abstract reasoning was an important part of logic in antiquity, ancient logic was much broader that its modern counterpart. ‘Logic’ translates ‘logike‘, and ‘logike‘ is that part of philosophy that examines logos – reason, language or argument – in all of its forms, including formal arguments, rhetorical arguments, speech, grammar, philosophy of language and truth (i.e. epistemology). The formal abstract reasoning that now constitutes logic was known in antiquity as one part of dialectic, and dialectic was just one part of  ‘logike’.

Stoicism. John Sellars. 2006. (Pg 55.)

An excellent summation of the disjuncture between the contemporary meaning of logic and its ancient meaning.



Woolf and Friendship.

Whilst reading Mrs Dalloway, a particular paragraph was impressed in my mind:

The strange thing, on looking back, was the purity, the integrity, of her feeling for Sally. It was not like one’s feeling for a man. It was completely disinterested , and besides, it had a quality which could only exist between women, between women just grown up. It was protective, on her side; sprang from a sense of being in league together, a presentiment of something that was bound to part them (they spoke of marriage always as a catastrophe), which led to this chivalry, this protective feeling which was much more on her side than Sally’s. For in those days she was completely reckless; did the most idiotic things out of bravado; bicycled round the parapet on the terrace; smoked cigars. Absurd, she was – very absurd. But the charm was overpowering, to her at least, so that she could remember standing in her bedroom at the top of the house holding the hot-water can in her hands and saying aloud, ‘She is beneath this roof…She is beneath this roof!’

Of this type of friendship, I have always lacked a way of describing it till I read the above paragraph in Mrs Dalloway. Woolf fleshes this out with some panache. I was taken aback reading it. Woolf reaches into the psyche and lays bare not even Clarissa’s motivations but her being at that very moment of time. Sally is more than just a reflection, but a point in the world for her to pour her soul into, and love unconditionally and have no expectation of any return. It is a love somewhere between what the Greeks would call philia and agape. This feeling is seemingly ephemeral and Woolf captures that so vividly in the above passage. This part of the novella is one I may return to later.