Part of “the first World History in the full sense ever written in any language.”
To quote from Boyle's introduction: Rashid al-Din's work is above allPart of “the first World History in the full sense ever written in any language.”
To quote from Boyle's introduction: Rashid al-Din's work is above all a repository of material on the history, legends, beliefs, and mode of life of the 12th- and 13th-century Mongols, material that has survived nowhere else in such profusion... We learn here too how this material was preserved: how “it was the custom in those days to write down day by day every word that the ruler uttered,” how these biligs or sayings, often couched in “rhythmical and obscure language,” were recited on festive occasions by such exalted persons as the Great Khan Ogodei and his brother Chaghatai; and how Temur Oljeitu was chosen to succeed his grandfather Qubilai because he knew the biligs of Genghis Khan better than his rival and declaimed them “well and with a pure accent.”
A primary source. There are tales in here that I have read twenty times in history books, but here I am moved by them, because they have human shading. You get such a different picture. In the first civil conflict of the Mongols: “But since the like machinations were unknown in the customs of the Mongols, especially in the age of Chingiz-Khan and his family, they were quite unable to believe him.” This is a sordid episode that ends in a great purge, but unlike in the histories it's told slowly here, with the disbelief and the distress, and people being emotional in general. At times – my example is Qubilai's trial of his brother Ariq Boke and party – the reported speech may be hard or impossible to follow (what do they mean? why did that Mongol proverb of his change his pardon to an execution order?). But it is speech. It's brilliant to have the exchanges, real or at least imputed by Mongols, to guess at.
The four pages on Tolui's last weeks are worthy of a play, I think. You see the gamut of Tolui, the heights and the lows. There's a gripping campaign story, a victory against great odds – through use of weather magic. Then he orders that they “commit the act of the people of Lot” on the prisoners – in answer to the enemy army's provocation, about what they were going to do to Mongol women. As far as I know this is a one-off, but Tolui was certainly the most violent of the Genghis sons. This is followed, straight on, by his sacrificial death. Ogodei is sick. “The qams (shamans), as is their custom, had pronounced their incantations and washed his sickness in water in a wooden cup. Because of his great love for his brother, Tolui snatched up that cup and cried out with great insistence...” Take me in his stead. If this is because of sins, I've committed more than him. If you want him because he's fine and handsome, I'm handsomer. He drinks down the illness-water; Ogodei recovers; a few days later Tolui falls sick and dies. As the translator says, Rashid's sources of information “contain many obviously legendary or folkloristic elements.” But it's authentic. The Mongols believed this tale; his widow Sorqoqtani holds it over Ogodei that he sacrificed himself (and Ogodei blames his drinking thereafter on his sorrow for Tolui). “They are valuable none the less as illustrative of the Mongol point of view and add considerable detail and colour to the somewhat laconic narrative of the Chinese chronicles.”
They also add point of view, detail and colour to the accounts in the history books. Don't miss them. ...more
Huge and rich, a treasure-house. With sentences like elaborate jewelry, too -- but not so bad as other Persian historians, the intro says, whose rhetoHuge and rich, a treasure-house. With sentences like elaborate jewelry, too -- but not so bad as other Persian historians, the intro says, whose rhetoric can become hard to disentangle. I enjoy how he intersperses (short) verses, from sources we can't even trace. The metaphor and manner of speech you have both in his prose and in these odd lines of poetry, give you glimpses into the mentality and the tropes they thought in.
Unfortunately he has little on the early life of Genghis. Even so, his potted history, 'On the condition of the Mongols before the time of Chingiz Khan' and 'Chingiz Khan's rise' is told with vim, and a sense of the sheer unexpectedness of that history. Juvaini's astonishment comes through, and already he begins to ask the questions: how did this happen, why did this happen? Contingency, God? He has the most catastrophic events to grapple with -- and at the time he wrote, he like his father before him were high in the service of the Mongol government. I don't think he's either for or against the Mongols -- it isn't that simple. He has and uses free speech to paint the catastrophe. But he isn't embittered beyond objectivity, like another Persian historian who escaped the Mongol onset and wrote in an entirely anti-Mongol vein from India: Juzjani. Certain chapters on the war follow insane events, such as 'Of Merv and the fate thereof.' Between the Mongols, the inhabitants, the neighbours and the putative Sultan who's meant to defend them... as insane a story as you can hope to find in time of war.
Juvaini does vivid portraits. For instance, 'Of the remaining events in the life of the Sultan Muhammad of happy memory and the confusion of his affairs.' Muhammad, Khorazm-Shah, was a disaster for his people -- Juvaini's people -- and Juvaini tells his pathetic story with sympathy and criticism too, and simply with a story-teller's verve.
Later, the portrait of Chingiz' son and successor: he piles up the incidents to be told of him, whose main trait was a generosity gone crazy. Generosity was a trait admired in kings, maybe the number one kingly trait, in both cultures here, and it's funny to read about him splashing around the Mongols' newfound fabulous wealth, and sensible heads attempting to save a little of the treasury.
These are tidbits merely. It's a treasure-house of a book, like I say. Legendary beginnings of Uighur kingship -- kings grown from trees? In here. The famous Sorqotani Beki, and not just the politics but the social context that seemed just as important to Juvaini; her deeds in patronage of religions. Plural; she was Christian, but Juvaini likes her because she fostered Islam too. ...more
Swoon. Again, she weights her first sentence perfectly as poetry. Last time shadow puppets (Combustion Hour), this time paper cut-outs, legends from bSwoon. Again, she weights her first sentence perfectly as poetry. Last time shadow puppets (Combustion Hour), this time paper cut-outs, legends from books. Both, the ephemeral life of effigies. This less sad, because not from the effigies' perspective. ...more
Injannasi (1837-1892), ‘a historian, poet, philosopher, painter and patriot.’
This study by John Gombojab Hangin is only too brief. But it translates iInjannasi (1837-1892), ‘a historian, poet, philosopher, painter and patriot.’
This study by John Gombojab Hangin is only too brief. But it translates in full Injannasi's 22,000 word preamble to his mammoth work on the Great Mongols of the 13th century. Injannasi lived at a time "when the Mongols were facing their greatest threat from Chinese colonization and cultural assimilation." As stated above, he was an ardent Mongolian patriot, in rediscovery and reclamation of his people's history; he was also a liberal thinker and advocate of cultural understanding and tolerance. His preamble ranges from castigation of the Inner Mongolian nobility (of which he is a member) as instituted by Qing China; to intellectually battling the 'vilification' of Mongols in Chinese histories; to arguing for the equivalent virtue in every religion, from Muslims to people-eating islanders; to mulling over issues of historical fiction writing, as poignant and pertinent today as then. Considering his firsts:
We owe to Injannasi many firsts in Mongolian literary history. He was the first author to have produced a lengthy historical novel based on the Great Mongol Empire. He was also the first Mongolian author to have written novels about contemporary society. He was the first Mongolian writer to express strong nationalistic sentiments and the first who dared to criticize the policy of the Manchu rule and the Lama Buddhist church.
-- he must have been a phenomenon. I gather it's one of those cases where his introductory remarks are as well-known as the actual work.
There's too much else to say for a review......more
Ah yes. These must have been what they set out to be. They're a legend, so never mind, except, I think I found James Tiptree Jr here, who was my numbeAh yes. These must have been what they set out to be. They're a legend, so never mind, except, I think I found James Tiptree Jr here, who was my number one sf writer for ages (along with Delany, also championed by Harlan Ellison in these books: he tells you the stories he has from those two are Great stories and he isn't wrong, so there). I seem to have been much more enthusiastic about the stories in 'Again, Dangerous' - I think the books got better, bolder (aside from Delany, in the earlier)....more
I never met language I like more. The Red Cross knight in book one is a dear, and later there's Britomart, she-knight. Stuffed with sex and violence.I never met language I like more. The Red Cross knight in book one is a dear, and later there's Britomart, she-knight. Stuffed with sex and violence. Such fun and earnest intent. Has the wild adventures of Boiardo and Ariosto but Spenser, bless him, is far more serious than they... like Malory after the frivolous chivalry. ...more
I read this several times, and not only for Dorothea but for the whole. I don't know that I ever identified with a woman main as I did with Dorothea.I read this several times, and not only for Dorothea but for the whole. I don't know that I ever identified with a woman main as I did with Dorothea. ...more
Years spent on journalism. Much more lively a tale than I thought.
He remains the champion of psychic freedom against the determinism of his day. It'sYears spent on journalism. Much more lively a tale than I thought.
He remains the champion of psychic freedom against the determinism of his day. It's this that caused his split with the Left -- as the Left now sails. Though for most of this book he throws the weight of his frantic journalism into the effort to keep up polite interactions, a common ground, with the scientific materialists, misled, he believes, by a creed of rational egoism. Until the satire or protest that is Notes from the Underground, where determinism has become a more urgent enemy for him than tsarism.
He's in terrible straits at the end of this one: his wife dead, followed hard on by his wonderful brother -- who slaved himself to death at the journals, which D., with the brother's family to support, promptly almost does too. The hours they put in and the stresses they were under -- never mind the persiflage. But the journal goes bust again, and that loads D. with debts he is never free from for the rest of his life. If you wonder how he survived the last instalment (prison camp) this is just about as rough. He says himself.
Aside from the hardest worker who ever tried to earn a crust for his dependents, he's a far stronger person after prison camp and less vulnerable. He still behaves with beauty and great generosity of spirit. Sizzles at the journalistic battles, though: he cares so much. He has such energy.
His first wife I'd call an abusive spouse, with the fraught temperament you meet often in Dostoyevsky's women. Mind you he knows fraught himself. It was on his honeymoon, after a 'massive seizure' to which she was 'a horrified witness', that he was told these attacks that came upon him in Siberia are in fact epilepsy and incurable. He declares he wouldn't have married had he known. Plainly, she wouldn't have married him. From the beginning to the end, however, he calls her the most noble, magnanimous woman he ever met. If you can't work out whether Ivan and Katya -- or Mitya and Katya -- love or hate each other, just read about his real life. ...more
Why he wrote about murderers for the rest of his life. A faith in humanity lost and found among examples of them. Would he have been a great writer wiWhy he wrote about murderers for the rest of his life. A faith in humanity lost and found among examples of them. Would he have been a great writer without Siberia? It's hard to say yes. He came out stronger in every way. Shorn of an old idealism, because that was ignorant, and now he has knowledge, and no less belief. He himself says he is unchanged in principles. The need of the psyche for freedom - ahead of survival instincts or what they call self-interest - he witnesses. Epilepsy strikes, and love that's as disastrous. ...more
A fruitcake of information. You don’t even have to read consecutively if you don’t want to. This is a sample to give you the flavour – fairly random,A fruitcake of information. You don’t even have to read consecutively if you don’t want to. This is a sample to give you the flavour – fairly random, and typical of any page:
“Malik Shah (r. 1072-92), under whom the Seljuq dynasty reached its apogee, publicized his kills by building towers from the hooves of gazelles and onagers throughout his realm. Shah Ismail (r.1501-24) built in Khui, Azerbaijan, a large palace called Dawlah Khanah which featured, according to an Italian traveler, three turrets eight yards in circumference and fifteen to sixteen feet in height composed of antlers of stags taken by the shah and his lords. On an even grander scale, his successor, Tahmasp, incorporated some thirty thousand deer and hart skulls into the summit of the highest tower in Isfahan, the future Safavid capital. And Akbar, his contemporary, placed hundreds of thousands of deer antlers on pillars positioned every couple of miles on the road from Agra to Ajmir. All these, according to eyewitness testimony, were taken in his majesty’s hunts, and were displayed at his order ‘as a memorial to the world’.”
It’s great context or background for any historical reading in his ‘core area’ where royals were crazy for the hunt – on a far vaster scale than hunt cults known to Europe: the hub of operations was Iran, North India and Turkestan, but he follows the royal hunt wherever it goes – North China when under certain cultural inflences, Korea, Ethiopia. In Europe there was no ‘heroic prey’, lions, leopards, tigers; as Aristotle said, ‘wild animals are at their wildest in Asia’. Although, wherever you are in this area, you meet much incidental reference to the hunt in histories, only a book like this pulls it together, gives you the big picture, and I am amazed anew at what a huge feature of life the hunt was, for courtly elites. I also now have the inside dope. Next time I read that Mas'ud of Ghazna slew eight lions in a day, or the Khitan emperor's mother killed a bear, I shall be far more suspicious about the stage-management that went in. He explores every aspect; his book is arranged by topic rather than period or society, so that a chapter, say on ‘conservation’ or ‘animal assistants’ ranges widely.
Warning: staggering numbers of animals were harmed. ...more
Caution: she'll strip you of your human vanity. That's her expertise. She'll inspect you, closely, as just a species, among the other species, and subCaution: she'll strip you of your human vanity. That's her expertise. She'll inspect you, closely, as just a species, among the other species, and subject to the indignities we watch (or we implement) in them. And is she wrong? How can she be wrong? She's tougher-minded than the rest of us, less vain, less sentimental. She'll inspect you like a scientist and experiment upon you. She had a brain the size of a planet and a scalpel in her hand. Unafraid to use it. Unafraid. Where does she get the strength for this distance from the species? I think she'd answer that, I only half-belonged to the species; I was a woman. Besides, she doesn't consider us human -- yet. Can we be? Most of her tales don't give us a chance. They may be cautionary tales. ...more
Hardy, the tragic novelist. Head and shoulders his number one. If you're young and have your head in books, Jude is your hero. I read this numbers ofHardy, the tragic novelist. Head and shoulders his number one. If you're young and have your head in books, Jude is your hero. I read this numbers of times. ...more
Fascinating close-up on late paganism and early Christianity. Paganism, alas, lost the battle. I do take sides, and I felt this book does, frankly. ThFascinating close-up on late paganism and early Christianity. Paganism, alas, lost the battle. I do take sides, and I felt this book does, frankly. The Christians are very often crazy, and the pagans have a wisdom you might often see here for the first time. So the upshot broke my heart. And he became my favourite historian.
No doubt I do him a disservice - I'm sure he's impartial; it's because he is, because paganism gets a fair case, that I am left with a grief for what we lost. ...more
It's an antique but I loved this book. I came away with a vivid portrait of Hannibal, a deep respect for him - I was devastated at his final defeat, aIt's an antique but I loved this book. I came away with a vivid portrait of Hannibal, a deep respect for him - I was devastated at his final defeat, although I admired his worthy enemy Scipio too. Yes, it's like a novel. Still, Cottrell quotes great swathes of Livy for you; after this I went to Livy, and found I hadn't missed much in the Cottrell. He's unashamed to tell you about Hannibal's sheer military genius, and my God how clever he is. That was what I liked him for. The man attains to wit in his military tactics.
What struck me most, though, was Cottrell's deductions, investigations, on the actuality of these huge-scale battles: how horrific they were. He talks about them in terms of 20thC battles. Left me scarified that did.
The difference in how Romans and Carthaginians thought about war is one of the most interesting aspects to the story. ...more
Five stars for photography, though I haven't read the text yet. Of the steppe - of museum pieces - of people and of animals - architecture - daily lifFive stars for photography, though I haven't read the text yet. Of the steppe - of museum pieces - of people and of animals - architecture - daily life - traditional arts, garments, ornament, weaponry. And a generous number of examples of modern art too.
Large format book. "...a photographic and intellectual portrait... of Kazakh national culture." ...more