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Lucian: The Syrian Satirist Who Invented Science Fiction

In this week’s Dispatches from the Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle looks at the work of the master of the comic dialogue, Lucian of Samosata

It all started with a Syrian writer about whom he know virtually nothing. He was born in around AD 120 and died in 180, or thereabouts. His hometown was Samosata, on the bank of the Euphrates in what is now Turkey but was at the time part of the Roman province of Syria. He is known as ‘Lucian of Samosata’ – or, more frequently, Lucian – and he has a claim to being the inventor of two literary genres, though his claim to one is somewhat more robust than the other.

The first is easy enough to make a case for. When Lucian was writing, the fashion among Greek writers was to draw on older literary styles from some five or six centuries earlier, recalling Herodotus in his Histories, or Plato’s philosophical dialogues. Lucian’s contribution to this literary renaissance was to give the Platonic dialogue a comic spin. In the process, he invented the comic dialogue which would later be used by Renaissance writers such as Erasmus, though perhaps most famously among modern writers, by Oscar Wilde in ‘The Decay of Lying’, ‘The Critic as Artist’, and the other witty debates that make up his 1891 volume Intentions. Read the rest of this entry

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A Short Analysis of John Donne’s ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’

A commentary on Donne’s great poem of farewell

One of the great ‘goodbye’ poems in the English language, ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’ is, in a sense, not a farewell poem at all, since Donne’s speaker reassures his addressee that their parting is no ‘goodbye’, not really. The occasion of the poem was a real one – at least according to Izaak Walton, author of The Compleat Angler and friend of Donne’s, who recorded that Donne wrote ‘A Valediction’ for his wife when he went to the Continent in 1611. Anyway, before we proceed to an analysis of the poem, here’s a reminder of it.

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No:

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears,
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent. Read the rest of this entry

The Best Poems about Holidays

The greatest poems about vacations

Holidays can be a time for the family to spend time together, a time to get away from it all. Poets aren’t naturally drawn to happy times as a fit subject for poetry, but nevertheless they have occasionally treated the subject of holidays and vacations – whether the Christmas holidays, or summer holidays. Here are six of the very best holiday poems.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ‘Holidays’. This sonnet by the author of ‘The Song of Hiawatha’ reminds us of the etymology of the word ‘holiday’ as ‘holy day’. The ‘holiest’ of holidays are the ones we keep by ourselves, the ‘secret anniversaries of the heart’. Holidays, then, are less about going away somewhere different and having fun, and more a state of mind, a feeling, an act of remembrance and self-discovery. This holiday poem, then, is a world away from the image of the family by the seaside with a bucket and spade – it’s about an inner peace that holiday time can bring. ‘The holiest of all holidays are those / Kept by ourselves in silence and apart; / The secret anniversaries of the heart…’ Read the rest of this entry