Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare*****

Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare has been adapted so many different times and in so many different ways, that the original has been forgotten. This is Shakespeare, and he does not disappoint. He can turn a phrase.
"I have no more doublets than backs, no more stockings than legs, nor no more shoes than feet."
But the role of women underlies the play. A role that is subservient for reproduction
"KATHERINA Asses are made to bear, and so are you.
PETRUCHIO Women are made to bear, and so are you."
and sex
"What, with my tongue in your tail?"
At the bottom, this is a play about brainwashing.
"Am starved for meat, giddy for the lack of sleep,
With oath kept waking and with brawling fed;
And that which spites me more than all these wants,
He does it under the name of perfect love,
As who should say, if I should sleep or eat,
'Twere deadly sickness of else present death"
So we have a comedy about torture and Stockholm Syndrome.

An exceedingly well-written comedy about torture and Stockholm Syndrome.

This might explain why there have been so many adaptations. The plot about love and marriage is timeless, but adaptation is necessary to match the evolution of society.

I just rewatched 10 Things I Hate About You. Though based on the Shakespeare play, the men are more changed than the women in line with the over four centuries that have passed since the original.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Wondrous Realms of the Aegean from Time Life Books ****

Time Life Books has long ago stopped publishing, but for many years they published beautiful books through their subscription service. Wondrous Realms of the Aegean from TimeLife Books was in the Lost Civilization series.

These books were lavishly illustrated, and this volume contains large, full-color reproductions of many of the iconic images of Minoan life. These include several frescos from Akrotiri, House of Ladies, Prince of Lilies, and examples of bull jumpers.

In addition to the many pictures, the text is full of interesting gems.
"Minoan society may have been matrilineal... Such customs arise...where people do not comprehend a direct connection between a baby and its father."
"One view...is that the pastoral and nautical imagery was deliberately created to reinforce the notion of a highly unified, satisfied society; in order words, that it was propaganda."
In summary, this is an excellent introduction of Minoan Crete.

Some other observations include:

The Minoans lived in harmony on Crete because of their isolated position. "The resulting unifromity of customs and speech no doubt stimulated sharing and cooperation."

Crete manufactured ceramics, jewelry, and other luxury goods. Much of the raw materials for this industry needed to be imported: copper, tin, gold, and silver came from far away. They also traded for obsidian, emery, ivory, ostrich eggs, alabaster, gems. Long distance trade has been verified by the discovery of Minoan products throughout the eastern Mediterranean and as far east as Mesopotamia.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Minoan Kingship by Nanno Marinatos ***

Superman or Batman? At first, this debate seems futile, as they are both fictional characters. But when you hear two experts present their cases, the detail is impressive. Ultimately, as an outsider, you are lost and lose interested.

Thus is was for me with Minoan Kingship by Nanno Marinatos. Did the Minoans have a king or a queen? No one can know, as the written record is recorded in Linear A, a language unknown and undeciphered. As I entered into this Alice in Wonderland world of interpretation and extrapolation, I thought I was interested. Ultimately, I understood this was a debate for those few academics who had studied the Aegean Bronze Age for years and years. Over my head and beyond my interest.

I did find some interesting details...

Gold. Apparently, Egypt had a monopoly on gold. Gold was traded among kings and used for self-glorification. "Consequently, it can be inferred that a king gave a gold ring only to a trusted and loyal emissary."

Libraries. "All kingdoms (small and large) of the region around Crete had libraries."
"The Minoans probably had literature written in the as yet undeciphered Linear A script. The fact that the only records that have survived were written on clay tablets...may well be an accident of history because leather and papyrus do not survive."
Vocabulary. The Kephtiu are the people of Crete. I'je're'u is a priest.

Axes. The meaning of the ubiquitous double-ax is still open to debate, while the oval-ax seems to be a scepter.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly *****

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly "inspired" the eponymous motion picture. The "inspired" is important because a movie tells a story while this book reports the story. The book reports three interesting and important stories: (1) the Jim Crow era, (2) the space race, and (3) the West Computers.

The Jim Crow era is covered from the depression through the Civil Rights Act. During the Jim Crow era, the south, and much of the rest of the country was segregated into white schools, stores, restaurants, service stations, and substandard or non-existent facilities for blacks. Even federal government research labs segregated their offices, cafeterias, and restrooms. For example:
"...in response, the state of Virginia set up a tuition reimbursement fund, subsidizing the graduate education of black students in any place but Virginia, a policy that continued until 1950."
"In Prince Edward County [Virginia], however, segregationists would not be moved: they defunded the entire county school system...rather than integrate. ...schools would remain closed 1959 through 1964."
The space race began with the Soviet sputnik satellite in 1957 and went through the moon landing by Neil Armstrong in 1969. Though on television, NASA looked like a sea of white men, women provided significant support. Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt tells the story of predominantly white women in Califonia, and this book reports on the black women in Virginia.

The West Computers were a segregated group of black women who performed complex mathematical calculation on desk calculators, first during World War II for the design of jets, and later during the space race in support of the Mercury and Apollo programs. These are the ladies that star in the movie.

This is a well-researched documentation of a problematic period of American history. It provides an important perspective on the events which lead to our conflicted race relations today. Well written and worth reading.

I found it interesting that one of the driving forces for civil rights in the 1960s was to counteract the Soviet Union's growing influence. As a government official said,
"In trying to provide leadership in world events, it is necessary for this country to indicate to the world that we practice equality for all with this country. These countries where colored persons constitute a majority should not be able to point to a double standard existing within the United States."
The author presents this story with an optimistic view.
"But she also knew that the best thing about breaking a barrier was that it would never need to be broken again."
Progress is about big things, like the Civil Rights Act, and small things. When Uhuru wanted to move on with her acting career and leave Star Trek, Martin Luther King encouraged her to stay as a visible example for black girls and women.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Destruction of Knossos by HEL Mellersh *

The Destruction of Knossos by HEL Mellersh is primarily interesting as a sociological/anthropological study in changing assumptions and attitudes over the last 50 years.

For example, when praising the Mycenaeans, who conquered the Minoans, as a superior Aryan race, the author characterizes them as "horsey" people.
Horsey people are indisputably a different and recognizable kind of people, now and always throughout the ages. They are self-confident, they do not seek to be over-intelligent but they do seek to be active and forceful and heroic.
Later in defending the Minoans...
One other find of this period shows a man with a dagger...there is therefore no need to impute effeminateness to the Minoan.
Later, explaining why Minoan cultural influence continued after the Mycenaeans took control.
[Mycenaeans] were, it is repeated, a horsey and warlike people. In any age the hunting squire or army general is not likely to have bee a connoisseur of the arts. This is not to say, however, that the squire's or the general's lady would not be interested in fashion...
In explaining the classical Greek period that evolved almost a thousand years later, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is invoked.
And whence came...this power of intellectualism?...In the first place, Greek, like its cousin Latin, is a highly inflected language...
In support of this book, between these social anachronisms, there are many interesting facts and details about the culture around the Aegean Sea during the millennium prior the classical Greek period.

Some interesting details gleaned...

During the Minoan time, the palace at Knossos was probably decorated by pennants.

The "small army of artisans, slaves, clerks, storemen, and workman" commuted to the palace across a ravine and river using a great viaduct ("a major engineering and architectural feat" wide enough for flocks of sheep).

"The designs on the seal-stones, now becoming so neat and clever, as give intimations of prosperity. They show for instance the pithos or giant storage jar, and the ship. Each of these could serve as a trademark for Crete--perhaps they did."

Variations of the Minoan Earth Mother includes dove for power, snake for domestic protection, bull for potency and strength, and a pillar. The bull also represented earthquakes.

Thera eruption: "The seismic destruction of the palaces, ...the failure of vegetation due to tephra fall, and the annihilation of the Minoan fleet [by tsunami]."

The Mycenaeans brought weapons, armor, and chariots to Crete. For centuries after Thera the Mycenaeans ruler Crete from a rebuilt Knossos.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Minoan and Mycenaean Art by Reynold Higgins *****

Mycenaean (Greek) civilization inherited the Aegean Sea after the collapse of the peaceful Minoan island paradise following the enormous volcanic explosion on Thera. In spite of all the Greek accomplishments in philosophy and mathematics, their logical world view was...
"never really sympathetic to the more exuberant and less disciplined Cretan spirit ... their joie de vivre and love of natural subjects."
Minoan and Mycenaean Art by Reynold Higgins (in all its many editions) surveys the bronze age (roughly the second and third millennium BCE) in the Aegean Sea (Crete, The Cyclades, mainland Greece). This edition is generously illustrated with 241 illustrations with 54 in full color on glossy paper.

If this is your area of interest, this book is an excellent choice. (note: classical Greece is approximately the 4 and 5th centuries BCE, much later).

The art and architecture of the Minoans on Crete differed from the surrounding civilizations, Egypt and Mesopotamia, and the succeeding ones (Greek, Roman, et al). The Minoans were matriarchal and peaceful. Their art reflected this in many ways. For example, from frescos to sculptures, to cups and bowls, to jewelry, Cretan art chose natural subjects (marine life, plants, birds) and peaceful activities (harvesting, acrobatics), eschewing scenes of fighting and hunting used by virtually all following civilizations.

On a larger scale, the peaceful nature of the Minoans expressed itself in their palaces. Throughout the world, public structures tend to be built from the outside in. The structure starts with a defensive perimeter and everything else is fit into the internal space. This includes residences, castles, walled towns, and countries. Fortified boundaries are almost a universal sign of civilization.

The Minoans, on the other hand, started with a central courtyard. Around this space, residences, offices, treasuries, storerooms, etc. were added in an organic way, as and where needed.

It is interesting to wonder if the explosion at Thera had delayed another thousand years, whether western civilization might be different.