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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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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

10 of the Best Poems about Wine

The finest wine poems

‘Wine is bottled poetry.’ So said the Victorian poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson; and, indeed, over the centuries numerous poets have waxed lyrical about the juice of the vine. Below are ten of the finest poems about wine.

Ben Jonson, ‘Song: To Celia’. Beginning ‘Drink to me only with thine eyes’, this is one of Ben Jonson’s most famous ‘song’ poems – probably the most famous. Like a number of poems on this list it uses drinking wine as a metaphor for enjoying life – in this case, the companionship and affection of the poem’s addressee, Celia.

Percy Shelley, ‘The Vine-Shroud’. Short enough to be quoted below here in full, ‘The Vine-Shroud’ is little more than a fragment, but it carries a certain poetic power with its commingling of the vine (representing life?) and the shroud (denoting death):

Flourishing vine, whose kindling clusters glow
Beneath the autumnal sun, none taste of thee;
For thou dost shroud a ruin, and below
The rotting bones of dead antiquity. Read the rest of this entry