The Qur’an: My first reading


The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

When talking about the Qur’an with others, I like to ask “Is it an ancient text or a medieval text?” Most people will say ancient right away, but it does not fit nicely on either side. Muhammad died in 632, and so the text of his book was written in a period that is referred to as either late antiquity or the early middle ages. To give some context: In the West, St. Benedict has only decades ago written his rule which will give stability to Europe in the Middle Ages, and St. Isidore and St. Gregory the Great are wrapping up the era of the Church Fathers in the West. And yet these developments have no direct bearing on the Qur’an. When Muhammad refers to “Romans”, this refers to those who are living in Greece and Turkey, what history now refers to as the Byzantine Empire (and most translations of the Qur’an will just say “Byzantines” instead of “Romans”). In the Eastern Empire, the Patristic era has not yet ended. St. Maximus the Confessor will arrive around 650 to determine the Monothelite controversy, and then the following century will be concerned with the Iconoclasm controversy—a controversy that inspired (in part) by iconoclastic Muslim neighbors, but which is ultimately resolved (in part) through the writings of St. John of Damascus, who wrote under the protection of an Islamic patron.

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Classics List

IMG_0363Looking around various literature blogs, I saw a number who joined a so-called “Classics Club”. Those who join make a list of 50 books to read within 5 years, and then write a blog post on each book as they finish. I have been using Goodreads for a few months now, writing only brief reviews, but I think it would be worth the effort to deepen my reviews. Now to come up with the list…

  1. Romola. George Eliot. (#2)
  2. Felix Holt, A Radical. George Eliot. (#12)
  3. Sense and Sensibility. Jane Austen. (#7)
  4. The Vulgate.
  5. The Qur’an. (#1)
  6. The Master and Margarita. Mikhail Bulgakov. (#36)
  7. Out of Africa. Karen Blixen.
  8. Kristen Lavransdatter. Sigrid Undset. (#15)
  9. The Master of Hestviken. Sigrid Undset.
  10. Rosmersholm. Henrik Ibsen. (#3)
  11. Anna Karenina. Leo Tolstoy. (#9)
  12. Barchester Towers. Anthony Trollope.
  13. Doctor Thorne. Anthony Trollope.
  14. North and South. Elizabeth Gaskell.
  15. Metamorphoses. Ovid. (#6)
  16. Ivanhoe. Walter Scott.
  17. Loss and Gain. John Henry Newman.
  18. Apologia Pro Vita Sua. John Henry Newman. (#11)
  19. Death Comes for the Archbishop. Willa Cather.
  20. O Pioneers!. Willa Cather. (#17)
  21. The Cyberiad. Stanislaw Lem. (#27)
  22. Brighton Rock. Graham Greene.
  23. Nine Stories. J.D. Salinger.
  24. To the Lighthouse. Virginia Woolf.
  25. Mrs. Dalloway. Virginia Woolf. (#13)
  26. Waiting for Godot. Samuel Beckett.
  27. Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Anne Bronte.
  28. David Copperfield. Charles Dickens.
  29. The Idiot. Fyodor Dostoevsky.
  30. Demons. Fyodor Dostoevsky.
  31. Absalom! Absalom!. William Faulkner.
  32. The Sorrows of Young Werther. Goethe.
  33. Italian Journey. Goethe.
  34. The Portrait of a Lady. Henry James.
  35. Life of Johnson. James Boswell.
  36. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Edward Gibbon. (*)
  37. The Dubliners. James Joyce.
  38. The Trial. Franz Kafka. (#8)
  39. Moby Dick. Herman Melville.
  40. Swann’s Way. Marcel Proust.
  41. Grapes of Wrath. John Steinbeck.
  42. Il fu Mattia Pascal. Luigi Pirandello.
  43. Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore. Luigi Pirandello.
  44. Il Gattopardo. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.
  45. Delta Wedding. Eudora Welty.
  46. Pilgrim’s Progress. John Bunyan.
  47. My Disillusionment in Russia. Emma Goldman. (#5)
  48. The Count of Monte Cristo. Alexandre Dumas.
  49. Helena. Evelyn Waugh. (#4) (*)
  50. A Train of Powder. Rebecca West.
  51. Out of the Silent Planet. C.S. Lewis. (#10)
  52. Eugénie Grandet. Honoré de Balzac. (#14)
  53. Decline and Fall. Evelyn Waugh. (#16)
  54. Three Elegies for Kosovo. Ismail Kadare. (#18)
  55. Adam Bede. George Eliot. (#19)
  56. My Name is Asher Lev. Chaim Potok. (#20)
  57. Remains of the Day. Kazuo Ishiguro. (#21)
  58. Thérèse Raquin. Émile Zola. (#22)
  59. Pale Fire. Vladimir Nabokov. (#23)
  60. The Frogs. Aristophanes. (#24)
  61. Letters to a Young Poet. Rainer Maria Rilke. (#25)
  62. Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon. Jane Austen. (#26)
  63. The Wild Ass’s Skin. Honoré de Balzac. (#28)
  64. Colonel Chabert. Honoré de Balzac. (#29)
  65. Comedy of Errors. William Shakespeare. (#30)
  66. Collected Novellas. Stefan Zweig. (#31)
  67. Democracy. Henry Adams. (#32)
  68. Washington Square. Henry James. (#33)
  69. Cyrano de Bergerac. Edmond Rostand. (#34)
  70. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Muriel Spark. (#35)
  71. Omer Pasha Latas. Ivo Andric. (#37)
  72. The World of Yesterday. Stefan Zweig. (#43)
  73. A Little Larger than the Entire Universe. Fernando Pessoa.
  74. Ulysses. James Joyce.
  75. Alcibiades. Plato. (#38)
  76. Gorgias. Plato. (#39)
  77. Perelandra. C.S. Lewis. (#40)
  78. That Hideous Strength. C.S. Lewis. (#41)
  79. A Moveable Feast. Ernest Hemingway. (#42)
  80. Ubik. Philip K. Dick. (#44)
  81. A Confederacy of Dunces. John Kennedy Toole. (#45)

Well, there it is. I will probably not be super consistent in sticking to this. Most of these books are either sitting on my shelf, sitting on my Amazon wish list, or have come up in recent conversation. I first wondered if I could come up with a list of 50, and then I wondered how it could stop there! But it will serve as a reference (and at least encourage me to finish the books on my shelves!). I only put two George Eliot novels on the list, but I will probably continue to read whatever else I can find by her. The same goes for Anthony Trollope–I do not know how much I will like him, but I may end up reading far more than the two books I put on the list.

[Update, 7 May 2017: The numbers in parentheses indicate the order in which I read them. An asterisk indicates an extra post on the same book.]

[Update, 20 Nov 2017: When I read a classic beyond my original list of 50, I will append it to this list, starting from spot 51. The remainder upon reaching 50 will perhaps be the start of a future list.]

[Update, 26 May 2018: My last three titles were not on the original list. I’m sensing a pattern.]

[Update, 6 July 2021: Definitely had a slow year. Starting to renew ancient reading habits.]

More information here:

Start date: April 22, 2017
Projected completion date: April 22, 2022.

False Etymology: Holofernes

IMG_0362I recently began reading the Vulgate from the beginning. The reading is not too difficult, but there are words I need to look up every so often. The most recent word was holus, holeris, which means cabbage or vegetable. My mind instantly went to Holofernes. Perhaps his name means cabbage-ferns (as impossible as the Latin origin is, the fern is even more impossible–for it comes from the Old English fearn). This led me to remember the early seasons of Dragon Ball Z, where all of the Saiyans are named after vegatables (Vegeta, Kakarot=carrot, Raditz=radish). And then I remembered that many scholars think the Book of Judith is invented, and then I thought how bizarre that Akira Toriyama and the inspired author of Judith should resort to the same tactic for naming their villains.

Then, seeking out the true etymology of the name, I found a blog post on an Old English poem concerning Judith and Holofernes:
Because the poem is Old English, the author plays on the false Old English meanings of the whole of his name!

(The true etymology goes back to Persian apparently, where pharna means “glorious”.)

One more tidbit: I was surprised to see that reptiles reptant. Apparently repto, reptare means to creep or crawl, and so our word “reptile” means a creature that does just that.