18 October 2015

"The Fox and the Lion"

Aesop (620-560 BCE), if he ever existed, was a Greek fabulist. He is said to have lived some time at the court of King Croesus of Lydia in Sardis, what is now modern Turkey. His name is derived from the Greek Aethiop (Ethiopia) and his statue can be seen in Rome's Villa Albani

An illustration by Richard Heighway from an 1894 collection of the fables
His fables are characterized by animals and inanimate objects that solve problems, speak and generally have human characteristics. Aesop's fables have been translated into hundreds of languages and most children at school read his tales, from which they are supposed to learn something.  The fables are short stories that illustrate a particular moral and teach a lesson to the reader. The characters of his tales are usually animals which act and talk like people, but keep their animal traits. In addition, a moral is added at the bottom of each fable. Thus, some of the most popular ones are:

1. "Appearances often are deceiving" from "The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing".
2, "Slow and steady wins the race" from "The hare and the Tortoise".
3, "Never trust a flatterer" from "The Fox and the Crow".
4. "Familiarity breeds contempt" from The Fox and the Lion"

Some people think that fables are directed only to children, and this may be the case. However, we can all learn something from fables and apply them to a great variety of issues. For example, a few days ago I read for the twentieth time the short fable "The Fox and the Lion":

When first the Fox saw the Lion he was terribly frightened, and ran away and hid himself in the wood. Next time however he came near the King of Beasts he stopped at a safe distance and watched him pass by. The third time they came near one another the Fox went straight up to the Lion and passed the time of day with him, asking him how his family were, and when he should have the pleasure of seeing him again; then turning his tail, he parted from the Lion without much ceremony.

Familiarity breeds contempt.

In which contexts can you apply this fable? These two just dawned on me: 

- Political arena
- Friends and enemies

4 June 2015

The dinosaur

One of the most famous micro-stories written in Spanish comes from the pen of the writer Augusto Monterroso. It consists of seven words and reads:

"Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí"

It is not the shortest micro-story of the literature of the language of Cervantes, but it is the most famous. In fact, since its publication in 1959 in "Complete Works and other stories", it has been analyzed and used in different ways.

For example, this micro-story was widely used in Mexico due to the constant victories of the PRI
(Institutional Revolutionary Party), that managed to retain power for over seventy years. For its ability to stay in power for so many years, the party was often compared to a dinosaur that did not seem to understand that its time was over.

Many people have tried to explain the meaning of this micro-story in different ways. Some have given it a philosophical explanation, while other stick to the use of metaphors in order to reach an appropriate explanation of the seven words and the comma. Some are even engaged in trying to find out who awoke, why, where the dinosaur was, what kind of dinosaur was, or where "there" is. 

Certainly, literary critics have done their part in analyzing Monterroso's micro-story to great lenghts. Here I am including one that has caught my attention. 

But this is not all. When it comes to translating those seven words and the comma into English, there is something that strikes me.  In Spanish "despertó" may apply to any living creature as the subject is elicited. However, the translation that I have found on the Internet is this: "When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there ". Obviusly, this translation brings some problems as it does not conform to the original text. 

In any case, Monterroso's micro-story seems to fulfill one of the functions of literature: to entertain.

28 February 2015

The pleasure of reading

I spent last Christmas in Madrid and, apart from spending much time with my family, I went to some second-hand bookstores in the city centre in search of interesting books. I decided to buy one after reading its foreword. I simply fell in love with the foreword written by G.C. Rosser. The book was first published in 1957 and its title is "The Poet's Tale" - An Anthology of narrative Poetry. It is a compilation of poems that nowadays can easily be found on the Internet, but Rosser's words were worth taking the book home.

"There are many ways of reading literature. We can dip into a novel to pass the time away, we can give ourselves to a writer to escape from boredom or the monotony of films and television, we can read plays, short stories, and poems simply because we have developed a habit and would not be without our weekly instalment of reading. We can also read to make ourselves more mature by living through the emotional experience of other minds in this or another country. But whichever attitude we adopt, there is always one element which keeps us fascinated in literature. That element is pleasure. We read because, generallys peaking, we find it pleasurable to read and the more pleasure we find in reading the more the activity becomes part of our daily lives.

What many of us have realised, of course, is that pleasure and understanding go hand in hand. The more we possess a book, the more we come to grips with its essence, the more satisfaction it gives us. The experience becomes more relevant, more urgent."

15 February 2015

Warsaw by night

Yesterday I watched the Polish film "Warsaw by night". I liked it very much. The film is a clear example of good Polish movie making. The structure of the film is not new, as it reminds the viewer of American films, such as "Crush".

In "Warsaw by night",  a group of several characters' stories interweave during one night in Warsaw. The film is also a great opportunity  to see some parts of Warsaw at night, especially the city centre with its peculiar beauty.

Most of the characters meet by accident in the toilet of a bar, and although they do not know each other, as the film develops,  their lives seem to have plenty in common.

The Polish film deals with issues that are very much in vogue nowadays, and the viewer can easily recognise himself/herself in some of the characters of the movie.

Watch the movie! You will like it.

25 January 2015

Nil desperandum

The maxim "Nil desperandum" (OdesBook I, ode vii, line 27) seems to be in most cultures. "Never despair" is absolutely necessary to overcome problems we all encounter in life.

Horace (65-8 BCE) was a literary critic, a lyric poet, and a great satirist. He was the son of a freed slave and had the opportunity to study in Rome and at the Athens Academy. He met Cicero there. 

Horace may have had many reasons to despair as all his family's belongings were confiscated. Moreover,  most probably he must have had a very hard time after the murder of Julius Caesar, especially when he was exiled. However, his maxim probably helped him face the problems he had. "Nil desperandum" or "Never despair" appears in his famous Odes, where he also uses similar expressions such as "In adversity, remember to keep an even mind" (Book II, ode iii, line 1). 

I think Horace's maxim is very much related to what other authors have written using other words. For example, last month I bought Rojas Marcos' newext book. I have always enjoyed listening to him, one of the most popular Spanish phychologists in the world. His book "All I have learnt, 303 ideas for a better life"  (my own translation of the original title) is full of interesting albeit brief ideas. His book is filled with positive ideas that aim at helping the reader in his/her life. One of the general ideas that comes up very frequently is that of being optimistic.

I suppose that Horace's maxim and Professor Rojas Marcos' thought are very much interelated. If we have problems and give up, how are we going to overcome them?, what is the point in throwing the towel in case of trouble? "Only in the boxing ring", my friend says. 

11 November 2014

Be content with what you have

It was Lao - tzu the person who said: "Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realise there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you".

Nowadays it is almost impossible to stay away from materialistic ideas. To have the newest mobile phone, another pair of trousers, a new car, a bigger house, a white table, or any other thing has become the main temporary goal in millions of people all over the world. Once they have obtained it, another one will stay in their minds until they get it, and so on.   Companies do their best to create on us a need that we did not have before, and once we have it, we think we cannot live without it.

Obviously, we live in the XXI century and lots of things have changed in the world since Tao-tzu lived. Nowadays, we can't imagine a world without international organizations collecting money, food, medicines and the like to help people all over the world. However, his words focus on the idea that we should look for simplicity in our lives in order to find truth and freedom.

He is also thought to have said: "Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime".The main idea is that humans can obtain respect by doing their best "to fish" rather that accepting "fish" as charity. Tao-tzu also points at the importance in understanding the laws of nature to develop intuition and build personal power in an attempt to live a live full of love and sense.

Tradition says that he was so sad by the things he saw around  that he left civilization and went to the desert on the back of a buffalo. As he approached the Great Wall gate, the gatekeeper urged him to stay and write his beliefs for future generations.

The 81 chapters of what we know now as the Tao-te--ching is one of the most translated texts after the Bible. Besides, some of his best quotations can be easily found in management textbooks.

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