Guus Bosman

software engineering director


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The Witch's Vacuum Cleaner: And Other Stories

Nora read her first Terry Pratchett book; she finished it on Halloween today. I'm a proud father.

The book is _The Witch's Vacuum Cleaner: And Other Stories_, a collection of short stories Pratchett wrote when he was still a teenager.

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Complete Works

Plato's Complete Works! What a beautiful challenge. I would have never thought I would actually read all these works by Plato. This became one of my ever favorite books, both in its contents and the awesomeness of reading dialogues and good discussions from more than 2,500 years ago.

Plato
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American travels of a Dutch hobo

While I keep struggling through the last Plato books, I keep distracting myself with lighter fare. I recently read this memoir of a Dutch retiree who remember his three years as an alien in the US during the 1920s, when he jump ship in the harbor of NYC.

I liked reading this book. It was nostalgic at times. The author, an old man in the 1980s, was pondering how his life could have been if he had stayed in the US, maybe married one of the women he met. It made me really curious about his live after he was expelled from the US, back to Holland.

Gerard Leeflang
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America give me a chance!

I'm still slogging through the complete works of Plato and it is getting boring. So I read "America give me a chance!", a hundred-year old book by a Dutch immigrant, Edward W. Bok. I didn't know much about him at all, but this is an interesting auto-biography. Edward met so many famous people in his life time, including several Presidents. His life work was editing a lady journal, and he's a gifted author.

Edward W. Bok
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Works and Days

This was a short book. The poem is around 800 lines only, though the book has an excellent introduction by A.E. Stallings. She is funny and made Hesiod approachable, both in her translation and the background she gave.

It's nice to think that Hesiod might have been the one introducing the Muses to Greek mythology; he dedicated the tripod he won for a previous work to a local shrine for them.

Hesiod
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Republic

This was the first time I read a book by Plato. Throughout the years I've read about his ideas, about Forms and the Allegory of the Cave, but I'd never read his actual work -- I was always intimidated! Well, now I'm on my Gutenberg reading spree, he was next in line. It turns out that Republic was quite readable, in a good translation and with great introductions by Melissane Lane in the Penguin Classics series.

Plato
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The Clouds

Part of the reading list from Gutenberg was a play by Aristophanes, The Clouds. It's a short play, and I read it in an hour or two, but I don't think I'll immediately read more plays -- I didn't love The Clouds. Unlike the case of Aschylus, where one story (and a book being unavailable right away in the library, haha), encouraged me to read the whole series.

I think what bothered me most was the conservative outlook by Aristophanes, making fun of Socrates and others who were trying to learn more. Even though that's 2,500 years ago, it made me annoyed with the guy; it's like watching Fox News I suppose.

The language was beautiful and very rich. I read Paul Roche's translation which is very contemporary and uses modern cursewords and so forth -- that was a bit shocking but felt right, in the sense that the original play must have been quite jarring and shocking as well.

Update 2/10: Now I've read some works about Socrates, I don't feel so bad about Aristophanes making fun of him anymore. So while taking a break after reading The Republic, I read Acharnians -- a funny story about a guy making a private peace-treaty with Sparta, and the outcome of that.

Update 2/17: You know, I'm starting to appreciate Aristophanes more and more and when I saw that Plato's Symposium is partially model after Frogs, I read that. Frogs is quite entertaining.

It's amazing how all these books refer to each other. Symposium to Frogs, Frogs to Aeschylus (who I really enjoyed), Frogs to Homer and Hesiod.. It's really nice to read all of these in the same time period, to get a full view. In Frogs there is a competition between Aeschylus and Euripides to figure out in the after-life who was the best poet. I have to say Roche's introductions and footnotes are quite good, too. Roche mentions that Sophocles had just passed away when Frogs was written, and Aristophanes didn't have time to make Sophocles a full participant in the verbal combat, though he did weave him into the story-line.

Aristophanes
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Sophocles I

This book contained the full Oedipus cycle, in three plays. Sophocles wrote them through his life -- they were written 10 years apart or more, interestingly. I read the summary of the Oedipus myth when I read Seven Against Thebes. This book was beautiful. It's a sad story obviously, so it was a dark type of beauty but Sophocles could write drama, for sure. The slow realization of Oedipus in the first part is well done.

The translation by David Grene was good, but I like Richmond Lattimore's translation of Aschylus even better.

Sophocles
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Aeschylus I

Well, I'm getting pretty disgusted by some of the things in the book. A father sacrificing his young daughter, really awful.

That said, this is a beautiful translation and now I'm getting more comfortable reading these plays I start to enjoy the language more and more. Take lines 91-96, just gorgeous:

the altars blaze with oblations
The staggered flame goes sky high
one place, then another,
drugged by the simple soft
persuasion of sacred unguents,
the deep stored oil of kings

The third part describes how the main character is chased by the Furies. It's cool to see where our word "fury" comes from and these are indeed some angry characters. They are transformed at the end of the play -- a move from never-ending blood revenge to a society where there is a court of justice.

I read this book around a business trip to Chicago.

Aeschylus
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Histories

Histories by Herodotus is a 700+ page book and I was daunted by it at times. It is not a difficult read but it does get repetitive to read about all the military campaigns. It was interesting to read about the customs and believes of all the various countries -- so many, such a variety.

Over-all, it describes a pretty terrible time to live -- so much cruelty. It's pretty horrifying to read how many wars there were. Pretty much all the time, it seems, and with gruesome outcomes too. Also, if you were invited to a "victory banquet" in those days, be careful -- lots of people got slaughtered after getting drunk, it seems.

Herodotus was familiar with a large geographical area. Interesting how he often he described connections to the Greek: "..they were descendants from the men of Troy" or that everyone believed in Zeus, he's clearly looking at the world from his own perspective.

War with Persia

The second half of the book, about the war between Persia and Greece, reads very nicely. Even though the characters are for the most part unsympathetic psychopaths ones gets a decent feeling for the time and era. Really cool that this book was written at that time -- and preserves so well. It was only at the very end of the book that I realized that a common meme, "this is Sparta", is related to the one of the battles described in the book, Battle of Thermopylae. We I watched the 300 film last night. The movie is not great but it was interesting to watch and see how they brought this ancient story to leave. King Xerces is depicted quite effeminate, one of the attributes assigned to him by Rawlinson.

I skimmed several scientific articles that spoke about the challenges of translating The Histories from the many manuscripts that were preserved (most from the 10th century). Pieces of papyrus that were more recently found indicate that the Medieval manuscripts were pretty faithful to the ancient editions.

I've learned quite a few things from this book. Now I understand the "law of Medes and Persians" expressions better as well as the linguistic connection between Philistines and Palestine. Pheidippides, the runner who ran the first marathon is mentioned in the book too, though not that particular story. I liked the story, apocryphal, about a tribe of barbarians who raise their kids communal and only when the kid turns 18 they all try to see who the father was.

Time travel
There was a part in the book that would fit in nicely in a time travel science fiction book where modern warriors go back in time: "...they also witnessed other supernatural sights. Two armed warriors, they said, of a stature more than human, pursued after their flying ranks, pressing them close and slaying them [Phylacus and Autonous]" (viii, 38-39). Later there was the following scene during a sea battle: "It is also reported, that a phantom in the form of a woman appeared to the Greeks, and, in a voice that was heard from end to end of the fleet, cheered them on to the fight [...]" (viii 84)

Bulgaria

There were several references to Thracia in the book. When searching more about that, I learned that the old Greek name for the Maritsa river, which goes through Plovdiv, is Hébros -- perhaps a name-giver to Europe? A good story, even if not true. There's a reference to the Rodopi mountains also, and later Пердика -- a king of Macedonia makes an appearance. It said that many roses were growing there.

The edition I read was translated by George Rawlinson in 1858. As such it gives some insights in the outlook and biases of a 19th century man. The footnotes were a good source of information and cross-references, they really added value to the book.I didn't realize the age of the translation at first until I saw a a footnote about the Delphi oracle stating: "she was possessed by an evil spirit", with an reference to a Bible verse.

Herodotus
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