The OF Blog

Monday, June 24, 2024

Can’t Go Back Home Again?: A Look Back on Twenty-Five Years of Life, Reading, and Reviewing

You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile, to escape to Europe and some foreign land, back home to lyricism, to singing just for singing's sake, back home to aestheticism, to one's youthful idea of 'the artist' and the all-sufficiency of 'art' and 'beauty' and 'love,' back home to the ivory tower, back home to places in the country, to the cottage in Bermude, away from all the strife and conflict of the world, back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time--back home to the escapes of Time and Memory. - Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again

2024 is shaping up to be a déjà vu sort of year for me.  Next month, I turn 50 and it will be 25 years since my first paid teaching job.  Yet after 23 years, I am returning to that school to teach history.  This is after I spent the last two months of 2023-24 school year teaching at another school where I did my student teaching in the spring of 1999.  Today, I just received a refurbished Dreamcast game console in the mail; I bought my first one on US release day back on 9/9/1999.  Next, I’ll probably turn on the radio and hear Santana’s “Smooth” or the New Radical’s “You Get What You Give” - both hits during the summer of 1999.

And yet so, so much has changed in the interim.  Every so often, maybe once every couple of months or so, I’ll try to follow links in my sidebar to sites that I used to visit and comment on frequently.  Take a look at it now:  it is more of a graveyard of sites, some who haven’t posted any updates since before my own gradual withdrawal from online book commentary that began in 2015.  The ones who do comment seem to not be talking much of anything new - I recognize still the authors, basic genres, and so forth - but yet there is a lot of silence even within those words, as if the writers (some of whom I would consider to be acquaintance-level friends even today, despite my near-total abandonment of reviewing in recent years) themselves are no longer as connected to something greater than a shrinking, small circle of like-minded people.

Of course, a lot of this can be seen in light of the technological changes since 2010, which seems to me to be around the highwater point of online book reviewing/blogging.  2010 was the year that I joined the then-Twitter and while it was exhilarating at times for the first couple of years getting to know even more people across 5-6 continents, communicating at times in 3 different languages, things just seemed to devolve the more “social” things got.  I’m not going to claim complete innocence in past comments on certain topics and people, but somewhere along the way, it seems that discussing a written work became less about how that work had a personal impact and more about what it could say about contemporary issues.  Not that there isn’t a time and place for such things, but when the Author(s) become the focal point of discourse, then what is contained within the Text(s) often becomes less important.  After a while, it was just a seeming hamster’s wheel of arguments over which authors should be considered for which accolades.  I never even bothered to get into the nascent Goodreads communities of a decade ago because of what I noticed going on in several of them that were linked to tweets that I read on my feed.

I just drifted away by late 2015.  I would read some, but I just didn’t fill fulfilled by writing about what I read or by what others were discussing.  I was just burned out by everything.  So I left.  Like Wolfe’s characters, I had to physically leave in order to find out something about myself, even if that meant a sort of permanent exile of sorts from a former time and “home.” 

However, lately I have begun questioning this line of thought.  Yes, me at 50 will be a very different “first year” teacher at my current school than the callow 25 year-old version.  Just like my experience in loading GD-ROM Dreamcast games that I played new back in 1999-2001, there is something “retro” about my relationships with what I wrote back 10-20 years ago compared to today.  Re-reading some of my reviews is akin to rediscovering things long forgotten.  And apparently, there were things written that were worth reading, considering the steady number of website visits I get for the “classics” or certain essays reviewing a line of thought compared to what was in “the rage” in other parts of the blogosphere that I visited.  Not everyone is satisfied with ***** commentaries with too-brief discussions and maybe a “dinosaur” such as this blog should write more to meet the needs of its creator and those who just maybe want something written that reminds them of a less group-centric literary discussion nature and something that, if not quite the home of years past, may provide something, or anything, that may serve to connect a lived past with an imagined present.

We’ll see, but I’ll try to start writing weekly or biweekly essays and occasional reviews of what I am reading, even if 99% of it is different from what I reviewed in 2008.  I am different now, after all…

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Popular Patristics Series

Yes, I'm still doing a deep dive into the writings of the Christian Church Fathers, this time through buying/reading several volumes of the Popular Patristics Series.  As is the norm for series, I will list in italics books owned but not yet read and bold the ones that I've read.  I'm cautiously optimistic that I will have time later this summer to write essays on at least a few of these, perhaps on a different blog than this venerable one.  

Total through 5/12/2024:  32 books owned.

  1. On the Priesthood by St. John Chrysostom
  2. Lectures on the Christian Sacraments by St. Cyril of Jerusalem (discontinued)
  3. On the Divine Images by St. John of Damascus (discontinued)
  4. On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius (discontinued)
  5. On the Holy Spirit by St. Basil the Great (discontinued)
  6. On the Holy Icons by St. Theodore the Studite
  7. On Marriage and Family Life by St. John Chrysostom
  8. On the Divine Liturgy by St. Germanus of Constantinople
  9. On Wealth and Poverty by St. John Chrysostom (2nd edition published 2020)
  10. Hymns on Paradise by St. Ephrem the Syrian
  11. On Ascetical Life by St. Isaac of Nineveh
  12. On the Soul and Resurrection by St. Gregory of Nyssa
  13. On the Unity of Christ by St. Cyril of Alexandria
  14. On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses, vol. 1: The Church and The Last Things by St. Symeon the New Theologian
  15. On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses, vol. 2: On Virtue and Christian Life by St. Symeon the New Theologian
  16. On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses, vol. 3: Life, Times, and Theology by St. Symeon the New Theologian
  17. On the Apostolic Preaching by St. Irenaeus of Lyons
  18. On the Dormition of Mary: Early Patristic Homilies
  19. On the Mother of God by Jacob of Serug
  20. On Pascha by Melito of Sardis (discontinued)
  21. On God and Man: The Theological Poetry of St. Gregory of Nazianzus
  22. On the Apostolic Tradition by St. Hippolytus (discontinued)
  23. On God and Christ, The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius by St. Gregory of Nazianzus
  24. Three Treatises on the Divine Images by St. John of Damascus (new translation, replaces volume 3)
  25. On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ by St. Maximus the Confessor
  26. Letters from the Desert by St. Barsanuphius and John
  27. Four Desert Fathers – Pambo, Evagrius, Macarius of Egypt, and Macarius of Alexandria
  28. Saint Macarius the Spiritbearer: Coptic Texts Relating to Saint Macarius the Great
  29. On the Lord’s Prayer by Tertullian, St. Cyprian, & Origen
  30. On the Human Condition by St. Basil the Great
  31. The Cult of the Saints by St. John Chrysostom
  32. On the Church: Select Treatises by St. Cyprian of Carthage
  33. On the Church: Select Letters by St. Cyprian of Carthage
  34. The Book of Pastoral Rule by St. Gregory the Great
  35. Wider Than Heaven: Eighth-century Homilies on the Mother of God
  36. Festal Orations by St. Gregory of Nazianzus
  37. Counsels on the Spiritual Life, Volumes One and Two by St. Mark the Monk
  38. On Social Justice by St. Basil the Great
  39. Harp of Glory (Enzira Sebhat): An Alphabetical Hymn of Praise for the Ever-Blessed Virgin Mary from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church
  40. Divine Eros: Hymns of Saint Symeon the New Theologian
  41. On the Two Ways: Life or Death, Light or Darkness: Foundational Texts in the Tradition
  42. On the Holy Spirit by St. Basil the Great (new translation, replaces volume 5)
  43. Works on the Spirit by St. Athanasius the Great and Didymus the Blind
  44. On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius the Great (new translation, replaces volume 4; available in Greek and English (44A) or English only (44B); own both)
  45. Treasure-house of Mysteries: Exploration of the Sacred Text Through Poetry in the Syriac Tradition
  46. Poems on Scripture by St. Gregory of Nazianzus
  47. On Christian Doctrine and Practice St. Basil the Great
  48. Light on the Mountain: Greek Patristic and Byzantine Homilies on the Transfiguration of the Lord
  49. The Letters by St. Ignatius of Antioch
  50. On Fasting and Feasts by St. Basil the Great
  51. On Christian Ethics by St. Basil the Great
  52. Give Me a Word: The Alphabetical Sayings of the Desert Fathers
  53. Two Hundred Chapters On Theology by St. Maximus the Confessor
  54. On the Apostolic Tradition (Second Edition) by St. Hippolytus (replaces volume 22)
  55. On Pascha (Second Edition) by Melito of Sardis (replaces volume 20)
  56. Letters to Saint Olympia by St. John Chrysostom
  57. Lectures on the Christian Sacraments (Second Edition) by St. Cyril of Jerusalem (replaces volume 2)
  58. The Testament of the Lord: Worship and Discipline in the Early Church
  59. On the Ecclesiastical Mystagogy: A Theological Vision of the Liturgy by St. Maximus the Confessor
  60. Catechetical Discourse: A Handbook for Catechists by St. Gregory of Nyssa
  61. Hymns of Repentance by St. Romanos the Melodist
  62. On the Orthodox Faith: Volume 3 of the Fount of Knowledge by St. John of Damascus
  63. Headings on Spiritual Knowledge: The Second Part, Chapters 1-3 by St. Isaac of Nineveh
  64. On Death and Eternal Life by St. Gregory of Nyssa
  65. The Prayers of Saint Sarapion: The Bishop of Thmuis

Friday, August 25, 2023

19 Years

 Although this blog probably has seen much better days, it is certainly wild to think that I started the OF Blog when I was 30 years old.  Originally intended to be an extension of the now-defunct wotmania’s Other Fantasy section, the scope and sequence of this blog has certainly shifted several times.  If you would have told me back in 2004 that a) I would be making a post here today and b) that the majority of my books read in the past couple of years have been bilingual Medieval Latin and Greek works, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Almost curious to see if for 2042 what I’ll be reading and perhaps blogging about.  Maybe dissertations based on the works of Chuck Tingle? 🤷🏼‍♂️😂

Saturday, May 06, 2023

Oxford Early Christian Texts

 One more list of bilingual Latin (or Greek)/English classics, this time writings of the Christian “Fathers” of the 2nd-7th centuries.  Lately, I’ve been doing some reading of the Church Fathers in order to become better educated about my beliefs and I stumbled upon Oxford’s annotated bilingual critical editions of the early leaders/defenders/martyrs of the Church.  These are not cheap books (often some are listed for $250+ on Amazon), but certainly books I will likely be collecting in the coming years.  Below are the current titles, listed by year of publication:

1.  Tatius, Oratio ad Graecos and Fragments

2.  Cyril of Alexandria, Select Letters

3.  Eunomius, The Extant Works

4.  Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana

5.  Severus of Minorca, Letter on the Conversion of the Jews

6.  Augustine, De Bono Coniugali, De Sancta Virginitate

7.  Maximus the Confessor, Maximus the Confessor and His Companions

8.  Leonitus of Jerusalem, Against the Monophysites:  Testimonies of the Saints and Aporiae

9.  Sophronius of Jerusalem, Sophoronius of Jerusalem and Seventh-Century Heresy: The Synodical Letter and Other Documents

10. Symeon the New Theologian, The Epistles of St. Symeon the New Theologian

11. Justin Martyr, Justin, Philosopher and Martyr:  Apologies

12. Priscillian of Avila, Priscillian of Avila:  The Complete Works

13. John Behr (ed.), The Case Against Diodore and Theodore

14. Jerome, Jerome’s Epitaph on Paula: A Commentary on the Epitaphium Sanctae Paula

15. Virginia Burrus and Marco Conti (eds.), The Life of Saint Helia

16. Nonnus of Panoplis, Paraphrasis of the Gospel of John XI

17. Damascus of Rome, The Epigraphic Poetry

18. Èric Rebillard (ed.), Greek and Latin Narratives About the Ancient Martyrs

19. Leonitus of Byzantium, Complete Works

20. Wolfram Kinzig (ed.), Faith in Formulae:  A Collection of Early Christian Creeds and Creed-Related Texts (4 vol.)

21. Alden A. Mosshammer (ed.), The Prologues on Easter of Theophilis of Alexandria and Cyril

22. Origen, On First Principles

23. Adrian, Introduction to the Divine Scriptures

24. Ronald E. Heine (ed.), The Commentary of Origen on the Gospel of St. Matthew

25. Apollinarus of Laodicea, Metaphrasis Psalmorum

26. Marco Conti, Virginia Burrus, and Dennis Trout (eds.), The Lives of St. Constantina 

27. Thomas of Edessa, Explanations of the Nativity and Epiphany

28. Papias of Hierapolis, Exposition of Dominical Oracles 

29. Abraham Terian (ed.), The Life of Mashtots’ by his Disciple Koriwn

30. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Human Image of God

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

A Brief Update

 I’ve been a bit quieter than I anticipated for the past few months.  It’s likely to continue for much of the next year and a half as I started online classes four weeks ago for a second graduate degree, this time a MS in Educational Psychology from Purdue Global.  Taking one class at a time for six weeks each is certainly very different from a full load of 9 semester hours in 1996-1997 for my MA in History from the University of Tennessee,  Don’t be surprised if I do an occasional post about my research (which dovetails into my new job responsibilities, as I am an interim principal at the residential treatment facility I’ve worked at since November 2016).

And I guess that’s about it for now.  

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Books Read in July 2022 and Reads in Progress

 Last month was a very busy one for a multitude of reasons.  I learned back on the 7th that I was going to need a laminoforaminotomy done on my C5-C7 vertebrae due to cervical stenosis that had led to cervical radiculopathy in my left (dominant) arm and a herniated disc.  I had outpatient surgery on the 25th and it’ll likely be another 2-3 weeks before I’ll be recovered enough (I can sit and read for periods of time and typing isn’t an issue for short periods of time) to be able to sit for 8 hours and do desk work, with another 2-3 months possible before I’ll be cleared to resume lifting weights heavier than 20 lbs and to do the more physically demanding parts of my job.

So I managed to complete reading three more books last month.  Nothing like the old days a decade ago when I could average nearly three books a day, but when I’m doing a plethora of other activities and not reading for more than an hour or so a day (almost all of it in parallel language editions, which also slows down my reading time to maybe 20-30 pages/hour, since I’m relearning one language (Latin) and teaching myself four others at the moment (Attic/Byzantine Greek for reading, and Arabic, Persian, and Serbs-Croatian on Mondly and Duolingo), this is not bad at all.  So here are my most recent reads, preceded with their order of being read:

5.  St. Augustine, City of God, Books I-III (Latin/English; Loeb Classical Library)

6.  Adelard of Bath, Conversations with His Nephew:  On the Same and the Different, Questions on Natural Science, and On Birds (Latin/English; Cambridge Medieval Texts)

7.  Dhuoda, Handbook for her Warrior Son:  Liber Manualis (Latin/English, Cambridge Medieval Texts)

I do have hopes of writing short commentary-style reviews of these books in the next couple of weeks, along with Iliad:  Books I-XII that I read in Homeric Greek/English (Loeb Classical Library).  Nothing too grand, just thoughts on a few issues that might be easier to address in multiple posts tied to the Loeb volumes.

These are also the works in progress:

Digenis Akritas:  The Grottaferrata and Escorial Editions (Byzantine Greek/English; Cambridge Medieval Texts).  Although I reviewed the Denison Hull translation of the Grottaferrata text a few months ago, this edition, edited and translated by Elizabeth Jeffreys, provides a wealth of new passages and some choice commentaries that may tempt me to do a review of this one as well, since at times this has read like a different work than the one I encountered in just English translation back in the spring.

St. Augustine, City of God, Books IV-VII - partway through Book IV.

Ludovico Ariosto, Latin Poetry (Latin/English; I Tatti Renaissance Library).  About a 1/3 complete.

I may have time to finish reading the other six volumes in the Cambridge Medieval Texts bilingual series this month or next, and if so, I will review them all, now that managed to track down an “affordable” hardcore edition of Dante Alighieri’s Monarchia (only $50 on Abebooks at one site; $200 everywhere else that I saw online).  And I’ll slowly continue to make my way through Books XIII-XXIV of the Iliad before year’s end…

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Pseudo-Methodius, Apocalypse and Anonymous, An Alexandrian World Chronicle


Τῷ δὲ πεντακοσιοστῷ χπὸνῷ τῆς δεθτὲρας χιλιὰδος `έτι μείζὁνος ἐξεκαὐθησαν ὲπὶ τῇ ἀθἐσμῷ  πορνεἰὰ πάντες οἰ άνθρωποι έω τῇ παρεμβολή Κάϊν τῆς προτέρας χείρονες γενόμενοι γενεάς, οἵ  και δικήν αλόγων ζώων αλλήλοις ἐπἐβαινον, ἐπί μέν τοὺς ἅρρενας τό θῆλυ, ἔπὶ δἐ θῆλυ τὀ ἅρρεν. (p.7)

Anno autem D secundi miliarii adhuc etiam mails exarserunt in obscinissimam fornicationem omnes homines in vastris Cain, peius factie priori generationis.  Qui et in more animalium in alterutrum convenientes insurgebant, et quidem in virilem muliebrem sexum <...>.  Similiter isdem turpissimis et incestis actibus hi, qui grant de cognation Cain, utebantur. (p. 80, 82)

For almost as long as Christianity has existed, visions of the end, eschaton, have been proclaimed.  These purported "unveilings" (which is what the word Apocalypse approximately means), have taken many forms.  For tens of millions today (such as the majority of my family, if not quite myself), the Apocalypse begins with a Rapture, or taking up of the faithful to meet Jesus before the seven years of the Great Tribulation begin (for billions of others who profess the Christian faith, this belief, originating in the 19th century, is a pre-millenist heresy).

And despite the disparate beliefs of the eschaton, the notion of the End has had a certain lurid appeal.  Of the earlier post-Revelations apocalyptic books, the seventh century CE book by Pseudo-Methodius (it was a custom in antiquity and the early centuries that followed the collapse of the western provinces of the Roman Empire for authors to take famous religious names as their own, with the hopes of the saintly names lending gravity to their writings) is perhaps one of the first multilingual eschatological bestsellers.  Apocalypse was originally written in Greek sometime around the year 692, based on textual evidence.  It was composed in the aftermath of three generations of calamities for the remnant Roman Empire.  From 632-697, province after province in the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa were lost to the advancing armies emerging out of the Arabian peninsula who proclaimed the new faith of Islam.  To many, it was as if the world were on the cusp of collapsing.

By this time, the eastern Empire was thoroughly Christian, if not quite united in beliefs.  The Empire had changed in the previous four centuries from being the cruel persecutor of Christianity to the stalwart defender of the faith.  For many, Christianity had become co-terminus with imperium.  This belief is very prominent throughout Apocalypse, making for imagery that may be puzzling to those modern believers in the eschaton who see the Roman Empire as the harbinger of a worldy, materialistic anti-Christian entity that would emerge to tattoo people with the Sign of the Beast or other such modern imagery.

Pseudo-Methodius's Apocalypse begins with a chronologistic approach, beginning with a history of the world and its sins.  I have quoted above a passage from the second chapter dealing with the progeny of Cain.  I purposely didn't give the translation because it might be more fun for those who do know either Greek or Latin what the author is condemning (and to convince others to use Google Translate to find out what is perversely amusing about that short passage).  In these chapters, in which Old Testament figures and populations are interwoven with the then-current age, there are scourges (such as the 7th century Arabs) who emerge to represent God's wrath over the sins of the world.  Over the course of 14 short chapters (the whole is perhaps 40 pages in English translation), the author presents the case for why contemporary evils were transpiring, before presenting a vision in which a future saintly Roman Emperor would emerge to reclaim the lost lands before relinquishing his authority (and life) in Jerusalem as Jesus descends from Heaven with the Saints.  The imperium of the Romans, transformed into a sort of quasi-dyad with orthodox Christianity, has yielded to its holy successor, the imperium of Christ.

Apocalypse is a fascinating read, as its representations of sinful deeds and the coming triumph of Christ is presented in vivid prose.  It is easy to understand how in a world in which the western Empire had collapsed and new scourges (e.g. the nomadic invasions of the 5th-11th centuries) had emerged that this work was quickly translated into Latin and disseminated throughout the former Roman provinces.  While its presentation may seem quaint today, it still is a key historical work of apocalyptic literature that is well worth the time for anyone interested in the historiography of eschatology to read.

In the Dumbarton Oaks edition that I read, there is a companion work, the anonymous An Alexandrian World Chronicle, that was presented in Latin to the Frankish court by eastern Roman diplomats in the mid-6th century CE.  It is one of the earliest examples of the Christian chronicles of the world.  Divided into two volumes, it presents the world from the entrance of sin until contemporary times.  While there is a strong religious element to it, this work contains lists (a veritable plethora of lists) of rulers from the pharaohs to the Roman emperors, with purported times of their reigns and any notable events during their reigns.  In isolation, this work can be rather tedious at times to read, but taken piecemeal, it does provide an early look at the general layout used by latter world/national chronicles to cover the history of (and reason for) various political entities.

Together, these two works, Apocalypse and An Alexandrian World Chronicle, demonstrate how the 5th century nomadic invasions did not quite sever completely the Latin and Greek-speaking Mediterranean cultures.  The historical value of these two works is immense, even if the writing quality of the second work might not be as appealing to modern readers.

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