Thursday 29 January 2015


Towy Valley apocalypse - note the sheep trapped on an island - they were rescued later

The apocalyptic weather at the beginning of January - the Towy took over the valley fields - was a reminder of our frail footing in a potentially violent physical world. This has some resonance as I have been reading Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve - How the Renaissance Began, the true story of how in 1417 papal bureaucrat Poggio Bracciolini rediscovered a manuscript of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura (written around 55 BC) in a remote German monastery.

Republication of this humanist epic poem, claims Greenblatt, kick-started the Renaissance, challenged the stale Catholic orthodoxy of those times, and changed the course of history.

This is, frankly, a massive exaggeration but it fits well with an unintentional theme in my own reading and discovery over the last two years and further back...

I have previously commented on schoolboy classicists' highly partial opinions about ancient authors. Hence we all hated Caesar (self-important boaster), Cicero (ditto and self-righteous with it), and Virgil (fawning patriotic propagandist with prissy hero Aeneas).

By contrast we all loved Lucretius whose poem is a great hoot full of greater truths. The Latin title means "On the Nature of Things" and it's a long, scientific analysis of reality covering everything from atomic theory and astronomy to sociology and biology. Underlying it are the twin concepts that the universe doesn't require divine intervention to make sense and, in contrast, life and all matter lead a sort of erotic dance through time which makes up the nature of existence. Madonna put it rather well:

You know that we are living in a material world
And I am a material girl
Some boys romance, some boys slow dance
That's alright with me

Lucretius based his ideas on those of Epicurus - famous for his Carpe Diem philosophy but less so for a fully-fledged cosmological explanation which L was the first to set out. Epicurus lived in Samos which I visited a couple of years back (here I am in his bath...)

And my hero Montaigne followed Epicurus by renouncing public life - as did Horace, another follower who put his political life behind him to retire to his Sabine farm.

And Shakespeare, allegedly a follower of Montaigne (but I doubt it: see this post) - also retired to Stratford relatively young - it is often said because he was "played out" (forgive the Shakespearean pun) but I also doubt that (see this post).


You don't get change from £5 if you have a cup of coffee and a sticky bun in Starbucks but for that price at the cinema in Fishguard on selected mornings you get coffee, sticky buns (or indeed bara brith), and a ticket for the latest film releases - as I found last week.

I last visited this venue (now known as Theatr Gwaun) in 1968 to see Zulu (not a latest release - it came out in 1964 - and no coffee and bun then). I enjoyed it, I recollect, especially as I didn't know who was going to win. I have seen it since more than once and it has slowly evolved from the predictable through self-parody and finally into disinterest although I have found some amusement in singing improbable words along to the Zulus' war chant.

This time the film was less satisfactory - the Imitation Game, all about Bletchley code-cracker and computer whizz Alan Turing.

Now I can see why film-makers have to simplify and manipulate a plot to make it fit the genre etc but this was just risibly unlikely and contrived.  At one point after years of unproductive work the fictional Bletchley team has the brainwave of trying to identify frequently used words in the Germans' messages, a consideration which (duh!) would have been identified on day one obviously.

The last straw was having the fictional Turing blackmailed by reason of his homosexuality into conniving at betrayal of secrets to the Soviets during the war, so reinforcing the stereotype of gay people pre-legalisation being bound to betray their country. Ouch!

This film has received rave reviews.