So, Who Was Cicero?

CiceroBust
Bust of Cicero, aged about 60.

When I first wrote my introduction to The Culture Project I quoted the Roman statesman Cicero: ‘to know nothing of what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child.’

So, who was Cicero?

Marcus Tullius Cicero was born in 106BCE and died in 43BCE. He is considered to be one of the greatest orators, philosophers, and statesmen in the history of Rome, and quite possibly Europe. The rediscovery and translation of his letters by Petrarch (1304-1374) is credited with sparking the borderline obsession with all things Roman that marked the start of the Renaissance, and he was also hugely influential on Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke and David Hume. Continue reading “So, Who Was Cicero?”

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Paintings You Should Know: Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (c. 1819)

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Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) was a German Romantic artist. ‘Wanderer’ depicts a lone traveller standing on a precipice looking out over a mysterious landscape of rocks and fog. Who is he? Where has he come from? Where is he going? The fact that this painting so strongly evokes these questions has made it a favourite image for illustrating music and works which touch upon these questions, not only in a literal but also in a spiritual, psychological, or philosophical sense. It is likely that Friedrich, a Romantic, intended it to be interpreted in precisely these symbolic terms.

The landscape is inspired by the landscape of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Saxony and Bohemia, but rearranged by the artist for greater effect. ‘Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog’ is painted in oil on canvas and measures 98.4cm by 74.8cm. It is held by the Kuntsthalle Hamburg in Germany.

Paintings You Should Know: Girl With A Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer (c.1665)

Vermeer Girl With A Pearl Earring 1665
‘Girl With A Pearl Earring’, Vermeer, c.1665

While the historical novel by Tracy Chevalier, and the movie based on it, have told us otherwise, the truth is that we have no idea who this girl is, or why she’s dressed up in Oriental garb, complete with the titular earring (which one Dutch astrophysicist has suggested might actually be made of tin). Perhaps this mystery is part of what makes the picture so intriguing. Continue reading “Paintings You Should Know: Girl With A Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer (c.1665)”

Author Profile: Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

Hemingway in later life
Ernest Hemingway in later life.

Born at the close of the 19th century, Hemingway embodied, for good or ill, a type of masculinity seldom encountered in the West today. He was born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois, into a conservative middle-class family. His musician mother, Grace, endeavoured to teach him the cello, but his physician father, Clarence, seems to have been more influential, spending their family vacations teaching his son how to camp, hunt, fish, and generally love and thrive in the great outdoors. In high school he was involved in a number of sports, but also excelled in English and wrote for his school paper. Continue reading “Author Profile: Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)”

Philosopher Profile: Friedrich Nietzsche 1844-1900

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Cover of the 1934 edition.

“God is dead.” The man who penned what is quite possibly the most famous line in the history of philosophy does not appear to have done so lightly, or with glee. This may be because he recognised that without a concept of the divine, humanity is as good as it gets… A brilliant intellectual plagued by ill health he suffered a complete mental collapse at the age of 44, from which he never recovered. Continue reading “Philosopher Profile: Friedrich Nietzsche 1844-1900”

A Special Drop: Mulled Wine

Jamie Oliver Mulled Wine
Mulled wine by Jamie Oliver.

Mulled wine isn’t something that’s ever really been on my radar, but recently while celebrating my sister’s birthday I enjoyed a warming glass of it over the course of a sociable winter’s afternoon, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

So what is mulled wine? Well, there’s no single recipe but the basic concept is pretty consistent. It’s wine, usually red, which has been warmed, sweetened with sugar or honey, and infused with spices. Continue reading “A Special Drop: Mulled Wine”

Paintings You Should Know: ‘Impression: Sunrise’ by Claude Monet, 1872

10 Monet Impression Sunrise 1872
Monet, ‘Impression: Sunrise’, 1872

Although the term ‘Impressionism’ was already in use to describe a style of painting emerging in France in the latter part of the 1800s it was Monet’s use of the word as an off-the-cuff name for this 1872 work (in French, ‘Impression, soleil levant’) which led to its formal and widespread adoption. Continue reading “Paintings You Should Know: ‘Impression: Sunrise’ by Claude Monet, 1872”

Philosopher Profile: Plato (c.428-348 BCE)

 

Plato
Plato

“So,” the Significant Other asked me recently, “now that you’ve finished reading ‘The Republic’ when are you going to do a blog post on Plato?” It’s a fair question: Plato, along with Aristotle, who studied under him, effectively laid the basis for Western philosophy and was also massively influential in the development of Christian theology.

 

And yet in terms of biography we don’t really know a great deal about him. Even his name is only a nickname, meaning ‘broad’, and possibly referring to the shape of his head. His real name might have been Aristocles, but then again it might not. He was born into an aristocratic Athenian family. His family may have expected Plato to enter into politics himself, but instead he became a student of Socrates. Continue reading “Philosopher Profile: Plato (c.428-348 BCE)”

Paintings You Should Know: Caravaggio’s ‘The Death of the Virgin’, C.1602-06

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Caravaggio, The Death of the Virgin, 1604-06

The interesting thing about this painting, beyond anything to do with the composition or the skill of the artist, is the fact that it was, and for some arguably still is, controversial to the point of outright offensiveness. Continue reading “Paintings You Should Know: Caravaggio’s ‘The Death of the Virgin’, C.1602-06”