Category Archives: Books

Fine, I’ll do it myself

My employer recently gave me a huge unexpected bonus upon my fifteenth anniversary of employment with them, so we bought a Nexus 7 tablet.  Since it arrived I’ve been terribly busy downloading books!  My current read is James Schall’s Another Sort of Learning [book, website], which is basically a guide to all the books you need.  And in downloading and perusing hundreds of ebooks, I’ve found the essential problem with them: they’re hard to navigate.  The Project Gutenberg Complete Shakespeare, for example, has no table of contents at all.  Some ebook apps will attempt to build a table of contents but the results aren’t much more useful than blind browsing.

So, I’m hatching a project: given a Project Gutenberg text, convert it into a fully-usable and easy-to-navigate ebook.

That great river

Classical scholarship

That great river which once rolled through the life of Europe, fertilising so many generations, and working so many mills and factories for the enrichment of the human mind, has now, like Oxus, lost itself in stagnant shallows; and dreary pundits, like wading birds, peck and grub in it for their unappetising fare.

Hugh Trevor-Roper (1914-2003), The Wartime Journals, ed. Richard Davenport-Hines (London: I.B. Tauris, 2012), p. 35 (from “1940-41″), via the Laudator.

A distressing and fascinating read

Surgical Instruments in Greek and Roman Times, 1908, new from Project Gutenberg.  The equipment is often equivalent to modern medical instruments and the procedures show an astounding ingenuity, but there’s a disturbing lack of anesthesia, antibiotics, germ theory, electric lights, and so on.  For mouth and throat operations, the ancient descriptions begin with “Seat the patient in the sunlight and direct him to gape wide.”

Here’s an unpleasant procedure that I would prefer to many others in the book:

Paul and Celsus describe a method of extracting foreign bodies from the ear by laying the patient on a board and striking the under side with a mallet. Paré mentions a hammer made of lead, and Fabricius describes one padded with leather, but neither of these is described by the ancients. There is, however, a Roman hammer of lead from the excavation at Uriconium in the Shrewsbury Museum.

I suppose every military surgeon had a Scoop of Diocles:

But a broad weapon if buried should not be extracted from a counter opening, lest to one large wound we add another; therefore it is to be extracted with a special variety of instrument which the Greeks call the Scoop of Diocles, since Diocles invented it. I have already stated that he was one of the most eminent of the old practitioners. Its blade of iron, or even of bronze, has at one end two hooks, one at each side turned backwards. At the other end it is folded over at the sides, and the end is slightly curved up towards that part which is bent. Moreover in it there is a perforation. This is introduced crosswise near the weapon, then when it comes near the point it is twisted a little so that it receives the point in the hole. When the weapon is in the cavity two fingers placed under the hooks at the other end simultaneously extract both the instrument and the weapon.

We will pass by bladder and gynecological instruments to quickly mention sponges, which “should be fresh and still preserve the smell of the sea.”

The book contains an thorough index and an extensive section of photographs of surviving tools.

Current reading

Or, why is my briefcase and/or ebook reader so danged heavy?

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling in a Kindle app on my pc.  It’s the first work in the Harvard Fiction ebook I bought recently (Eliot’s old Five Foot Shelf, after which I have lusted at Half-Price Books in Indianapolis).  The Kindle edition is a buck ninety-nine or somesuch.  Fielding’s  writing in Tom Jones is remarkably modern for something written in the 1740s, but the more I read the lighter, fizzier and more disagreeable it is.

The letters to the Galatians and Romans, Exodus, Leviticus and Acts (to be followed by the letter to the Hebrews) in a quest to understand what the ancient Jewish law meant to early Christians.  In the years immediately after Christ’s ascension the Christians of Jerusalem worshipped daily in the Temple and kept the Torah as they had done before, and the leaders naturally figured that this was the Christian life—pagans converting to Christ would need to be circumcised, keep the dietary laws, participate in the Temple worship of daily sacrifice and so on.  The first big recorded dispute in the Church was whether pagan converts really needed to do all that to live a Christian life.

I have a facebook friend, a Protestant, who posts stuff about Christians needing to keep the entire ancient Jewish law, and I found that I couldn’t refute it off the top of my head because I didn’t know the historical details—all I could do would be to cite the authority of historical practice, which ain’t recognized by most Protestants.  (No, I’m not going to attempt to refute her beliefs unless she asks me – it isn’t any of my business, but it is an interesting question.)

My current thought is that the moral law is universally binding, of course, but in order to keep the rest of the old law you’d also need to re-establish the Levitical priesthood and have those guys carrying out all the prescribed sacrifices—the regular daily ones plus all the sacrifices required to cover breaches of the law—since all those sacrifices are an essential part of the ‘economy’ of the old law.  But then you run up against Christ and His sacrifice, ably explained and defended by St Paul.  So at the moment it’s boiling down to “in what way is Christ’s sacrifice a fulfillment of and a replacement for the Levitical system of sacrifice?”  It’s not a bad hook on which to hang your Bible reading.

The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers.  A look at the Trinity as described in the ancient creeds, and how these descriptions make perfect colloquial sense when considered in the light of human creativity, especially writing.  For example, a book exists in the mind of its author as an Idea; in a sort of incarnation of its Energy when it takes on the flesh of ink and paper, and as Power when read and understood.  The parallels she finds are astounding.

Selected Literary Essays by CS Lewis once was lost but now is found.  The 13yo girl, an author, poet, and budding scholar of Middle English, was curled up one night with Arthur Q-C’s Oxford Book of English Verse, and we fell to discussing poetry.  The conversation eventually came round to alliterative meter and she said she’d tried her hand at it following the rules set out by Lewis in his essay The Alliterative Metre, one of the Selected Essays.  Lo! she found it in the foyer a few days ago and since her interests have wandered to something else I’m re-reading it.  It’s one of those thousands of books I bought when I was a Rich Young Bachelor hoping someday my kids would wander through them and educate themselves as I did with what few books I had in childhood.  When she finds a book to read I often tell her that I bought it just for her twenty-five years ago.

And I’m casting about for some good fiction to read—something Good, True and Beautiful.  Any suggestions?  Which reminds me, I haven’t yet read Bill Luse’s The Last Good Woman.  There.  That was easy.  Good fiction ahoy!