Book Reviews: Summer 2022

Anna Faktorovich

Broken Comments on the Atlas that Pre-Determined the World’s Borders

Duane W. Roller, A Guide to the Geography of Pliny the Elder (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022). 631pp. Hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-108-48180-9.


As I have been working on translating Renaissance texts for my BRRAM series, Pliny’s geography and maps are regularly cited as proof of the state of the ancient world. These maps are not mere geographical facts regarding how Romans perceived the political and natural borders of the world, but also the beginning of an interpretation of distant, barely visited cultures and peoples from a west-centric perspective. The nationalistic separation of the “otherness” of foreign peoples and their barbarity was first represented in these types of geography textbooks, before these concepts of nationhood and conquest were solidified in political and philosophical books. Back in 400 BC, the map of nearly all of Europe is a borderless blank with only a people peoples and small nations, but Pliny’s maps contributed to defining most of Europe as falling under the Roman Empire’s control after its publication in 70 AD. The Romans could not have fought battles to conquer this territory, as most of the peoples of Europe probably did not even recognize their lands had been claimed until they were personally taxed or otherwise faced the outcomes of colonialization. Rome itself began the process of breaking Eurasia into smaller countries when it split into the Western and Eastern Empire by around 400 AD, as the Hunnic Empire was rapidly spreading through Asia. Across the following Dark Ages there were constant shifts in borders between countries, before these European fights over land branched out into colonialism of lands elsewhere. Because it fell at the beginning of the geo-political fight over Europe, Pliny’s map was uniquely important in the Renaissance, when European empires developed a growing ambition to follow in Rome’s colonizing and conquering example.

The publisher describes this book thus: “This is the first thorough English commentary on the geographical books of Pliny the Elder, written in the AD 70s. Pliny’s account is the longest in Latin, and represents the geographical knowledge of that era, when the Roman Empire was the dominant force in the Mediterranean world. The work serves both cultural and ideological functions: much of it is topographical, but it also demonstrates the political need to express a geographical basis for the importance of the Roman state. In five books, Pliny covers the entire world as it was known in his era and includes some of the first information on the extremities of the inhabited region, including Scandinavia and the Baltic, eastern Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. The commentary provides a detailed analysis of all the points Pliny raises: his sources, toponyms, and understanding of the place of the earth in the cosmos.”

The “Preface” elaborates that Natural History is the “longest surviving work in Latin from antiquity”. The Empire would have had a self-interest in investing funds in creating and preserving this work through the ages because it lay an antique claim to an enormous chunk of the world that the various states with “Rome” in their titles (such as the Holy Roman Empire) have attempted to reclaim since. Pliny cites “over a hundred sources” that have served as concrete evidence to substantiate Pliny’s narrative that has been repeated by historians into our modern times. These ancient Greek and Latin sources would obviously be extremely difficult for a modern reader to find and decipher without the type of detailed commentary that this book sets out to provide. One of the reasons Renaissance writers preferred to city Pliny is because he is claimed to have spent his youth in Germania, or in the wide unmapped spans of Europe, which later became associated with the Germanic people that were the claimed predecessors of Britons. Oddly, after working with horses in Germania, and as a financial officer, Pliny managed to become a lawyer and military commander who was a top advisor of the emperor. His nephew, Pliny the Younger, is credited with finding the manuscript of Natural History and German Wars and publishing these and other books posthumously (though Pliny the Elder did publish the first 10 books out of Natural before his death); the latter has only survived in tiny fragments, but is credited as the source for Tacitus’ Germania (another major source of ancient history during the Renaissance). Natural was also re-edited and mentioned in later significant histories of Solinus’ and Bede, though there were complaints that errors were introduced during its cycles of re-transcription before it was first-printed at the dawn of the printing-press in 1469. “Map 1: The Ancient World as Known to Pliny” clarifies that Pliny had a very different perception of the world, as he saw India Ariana, Arabia and Libya as equal-sized places under Europe and Scythia. He also has an oversized perception of Britannia or Britain as a giant landmass that nearly touches Europe. “Map 2: The Geographical Divisions of Books 3-6” also helps to explain which chunks of the world are covered in which sections. I used online digitized versions of Natural in my past research, and searching through the books to find a given region is rather difficult, as they are not divided into continents, but rather into cultural regions.

Then, the chapter on “Book 1” begins by pointing out that Pliny’s detailed citations in Book 1 are “rare” for “an ancient text”. This raises my suspicion that this work might have been a much later forgery, but I won’t dive into these questions. Though these sources are mostly literary or philosophical, such as Aristotle and Seneca, while sources that might have been more useful in explaining ancient geography and political borders such as Homer are not mentioned; then again, Homer is mostly mythological. A useful catalog of these sources is provided that explain problems such as that “Pliny may have cited as many as three people with the name ‘Ateius’, who are difficult to distinguish.” These types of problems are especially noticeable to anybody who is translating or attempting to add modern-style citations that explain a text such as Pliny’s, as it is a challenge figuring out which is the intended source to search in for further information, such as page numbers and quotes. 

There are many reasons for scholars to be interested in researching Natural, but this volume does not help to solve the main obstacle that prevents it from being accessible to the general public, or its choppiness and broken narrative. For example, I tried to search for references to the British Isles in the Index. Verstegan’s Restitution cites Pliny’s descriptions of Britain, so I am certain they are in these volumes, but most of the references in the Index are to the introduction or to the cosmology chapters. The pages cited in the Index do not appear to actually use “Britain” on them, as a search for this word in the text only finds it in a note about “Pliny’s personal reference” to Boudica’s revolt in 41 AD against the Roman governor Suetonius Paulinus; the length of the section that describes Boudica suggests “that the two knew each other” in a “friendship”. These types of speculations of personal interest are counter-productive to research, as given the stakes for Boudica’s region, it is dehumanizing to assume she was friendly while she was engaged in a rebellion against Rome, instead of focusing on military strategy. These annotations could have been helpful if only evidence-based and not intuition-based conclusions were cited (282). On the other hand, there are useful references on this same page, such as the walking distance between places described in the Atlas. Though the next page introduces a new problem. The editor comments on Pliny’s description of the “Canarii” people as being “animalistic in nature, perhaps a conclusion merely from the assumption that their name meant ‘Dog People.’ Yet it is probably a local ethnym” (283). The editor fails to consider that Pliny might never have traveled across these thousands of miles or have met the “Canarii” people, but instead merely created a mythology for this population as being animalistic, just like the other populations colonized by Rome, and gave them the fictitious name “Canarii” that meant “Dog People”. Verstegan discusses these types of unknowing insulting namings across Restitution for Decayed Intelligence in Antiquities, which I just finished translating.

This book really has to be purchased together with the partner text of Pliny’s Natural itself, as it is referring to specific pages and citated elements that really need to be followed to the source to grasp what the editor is explaining in these commentaries. And these commentaries mostly reaffirm previous things that have been commented on regarding this classical text, without questioning points that really should be questioned in our modern times. The dehumanization and minimalization of foreign cultures as animalistic has led to our modern world where mass-homicide in warfare of foreigners is acceptable of “developed” nations regular foreign policy actions. The annotations are also too choppy as they leap between different points about a section instead of making coherent arguments in separate points. The editor seems to be simultaneously in a rush to abbreviate points and citations, but then digresses into general thoughts on topics without keeping economy-of-words in mind. Libraries who are purchasing Cambridge’s translation of Pliny should definitely also purchase this commentary about it. But I hope a better book that combines the text with bottom-of-page annotations that are clear and critically questioning will be released in the future.

Fragmentary Scholarship Designed to Confuse the Attribution of Euripides

Marco Fantuzzi, The Rhesus Attributed to Euripides: Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries, 63 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020). Hardcover. 712pp. ISBN: 978-1-107-02602-5.


“The tragedy Rhesus has come down to us among the plays of Euripides” (480-406 BC) “but was probably the work either of fourth-century BC actors or producers heavily rewriting his original play or of a fourth-century author writing in competition. This edition explores the play as a ‘postclassical’ tragedy, composed when the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides had become the ‘classical’ canon. Its stylistic mannerisms, cerebral re-use of the motifs and language of fifth-century tragedy, and endemic experimentalism with various models of intertextuality exemplify the anxiety of influence of the Rhesus as a text that ‘comes after’ fifth-century drama and Book 10 of the Iliad. The anachronistic adaptations of the world of the epic heroes to the new reality of the polis and the irresistible rise of Macedonian power also reveal the Rhesus attempting to be both seriously intertextual with its models and seriously different from them.”

I requested this title because Fantuzzi hints in this summary that the authorship and dating of this classical Rhesus tragedy are going to be questioned, in contradiction with the traditional scholarly acceptance of bylines and date-of-composition claims made by preceding scholars in an echo chamber of scholarly plagiarism that fails to question if original creators were involved in “authenticating” their own work as scholarly accessors. Given my findings across BRRAM, I am extremely skeptical about most bylines and publication dates for anything other than officially registered books in the printing-age. The problems with giving Euripides credit as one of the oldest and thus originating authors in world literature begin even in his own biography as, for example, Iphigenia in Aulius is claimed to have been completed posthumously by his son (echoing a similar “finder” role that Pliny the Younger played for the Elder). Though Fantuzzi hardly takes a radical position in this line of reasoning, since Rhesus’ authorship was already questioned in antiquity, before being renewed starting in the 18th century. These earlier studies analyzed the divergence of the literary formula in this play from the other plays in the Euripides canon, and Fantuzzi echoes these types of questions without exploring the new computational-linguistic approaches or carbon-dating manuscripts that might have led him to a definitive dating and authorship conclusion.

Looking over the “Contents” page, it seems to promise that Fantuzzi’s approach will make the text and research into accessible to the general public. He includes the full text of Rhesus together with extensive scholarly essays and commentary about the authorship of this work. However, on closer inspection the text is offered only in Greek without an English translation. And the annotations below the text are also in Greek. Even the character names are given as abbreviations without helping readers by giving their full names. The opening introductory content to the book also confuse readers about what is included in this volume by using terms in Greek, and avoiding direct and clear explanations. For example, right after the Greek version of the play, there is a section called “Fragments of Prologues” that explains the existence of many prologues that were written across the centuries, without clarifying their significance, or even giving specific dates for the major cited fragments. Most of this introduction is fragmentary and vaguely nonsensical, including the parenthetical question “(Aristophanes?)” after an opening sentence to a paragraph that is introducing these fragments and digresses into other subjects not at all related to Aristophanes. Then, the remainder of the book is dedicated to the Commentary. Some of these comments are practically useful for translators and scholars of this text, as for example, Baoiléws is defined as a “prince” or “member of the royal family”, followed by citations of how this term was applied variedly in different antique texts. However, later on this same page a phrase is given in Greek, followed with an example of it in another text, and all without defining what it means in English, and thus being entirely “Greek” to readers who may not know Greek, and are still researching this text, and hoping to find clarifications (148). Most of the comments are extremely choppy, as the editor appears intent on cramming as many citations as possible and abbreviating so many things the reader doesn’t notice the editor is leaping uncontrollably between nearly unrelated points and is not really defining or explaining any of them (149). This problem of choppiness persists in the “Introduction” that is supposed to lead readers into the subject. The editor compresses isolated points in the plot into a few sentences, and then concludes the opening paragraph with a summary of pages that mention different characters in the Chorus (this is a very random point hardly suitable for the opening paragraph). The following section appears to be echoing broad objections that have been raised by other scholars without stopping to explain the broad question that is being investigated, or stopping to explore each point individually. Then in the body of the critical essays, the points that need scrutiny are brushed over, as the editor settles for “probably” on points that are not supported with evidence such as a sanctuary of the cult of Rhesus at Amphipolis, which “cannot have been destroyed”, and yet has been destroyed since it is only attested in ancient writings. It is useful that an extensive citation is given to support this argument that Rhesus “was a local deity” in both Greek and in an English translation (13-4).

Overall, I have vertigo from attempting to read this book. It is not advisable that any scholars or students researching this play dive into this project without first extensively reading the other major scholarship as well as the play itself in a language they are fluent in. Anybody who attempts to find a gradual introduction to this subject here, will be deeply confused, and probably repelled from attempting to read the actual play.

One Interpretation of the Application of Performing Arts in Early Modern Education

Amanda Eubanks Winkler, Music, Dance, and Drama in Early Modern English Schools (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020). Hardcover. 235pp. ISBN: 978-1-108-49086-3.


“The first book to systematically analyze the role that the performing arts played in English schools after the Reformation. Although the material record is riddled with gaps, Winkler sheds light on the subject through an innovative methodology that combines rigorous archival research with phenomenological and performance studies approaches. She organizes her study around a series of performance-based questions that demonstrate how the schoolroom intersected with the church, the court, the domicile, the concert room, and the professional theater, which allows her to provide fresh perspectives on well-known canonical operas performed by children, as well as lesser-known works…”

I briefly reviewed this summary before requesting this book, but on closer study it is clearly not what I hoped it would be. The dramatic volumes of my BRRAM series explore the financial fraud that was behind how some troupes’ managers profited at the expense of the actors and investors. As I dug into the evidence in manuscripts such as the record-keeping books at the Rose and other theaters, I realized there is much about these that has not been appropriately scrutinized by scholars. I also found that dance and music instruction was used as social capital by social-climbers who had to display their superiority to gain grants of lands and other honors from the monarchy. Instead of analyzing such ground subjects, the “Introduction” begins with the author’s digression into a show her daughter participated in. This memory brings her to the central question she hopes to answer or if rehearsals and teaching of the performing arts were different in the Early Modern period in contrast with the present. As she begins researching this topic she comes to a revealing conclusion that there were “gaps” in the record: “missing musical notations, absent choreographies…” (2). These gaps were clarified in my own research as indicators of non-performance, such as non-existent plays that were entered into registries, but no record of them or a surviving manuscript has been found. The absence of evidence in such cases is evidence of fraud that made these fields appear much more active than they were in reality. For example, “Nashe” wrote some plays saw audiences of 10,000 people at a showing, when clearly no more than 2,000 could fit in any theater. The puffing of such industries helped to bring investors who would be fooled when in reality the play saw very few visitors. When I was translating self-attributed plays, I realized that he was writing extensive stage directions and set design descriptions in these plays he kept in his own archive, whereas he did not include these types of details in his “Shakespeare” or otherwise bylined published plays; he or a director who was paying him would probably sponsor the creation of such instructions separately, doubling the writer-director’s profits. If such instructions were in the published books, any troupe could reproduce the play without double-paying Percy to decipher how it was to be produced. The fact that only “a few scattered manuscripts” survived is not a sign of the fleeing nature of performance, but rather this absence is the evidence (3). Instead of similarly practically recognizing absence as likely fraud, Winkler fills these gaps with what she imagines might have happened, adding to the puffing fiction of the Renaissance further elaborate excuses to inflate and add to the tapestry of fake “history”. She uses how “theater historians and musicologists” have imagined they would have performed the surviving dramatic and musical texts, to claim with elaboration that what they theorize actually happened. She also argues (as many have before, and rightly so) that the rules of performance that were designed during the Renaissance are still being plagiarized or followed today, so the study of modern performance returns to these earliest sources, even if a writer fails to find the texts or manuscripts that must have existed for them to be plagiarized in the theatrical direction lessons of generations of theater organizers. While this introduction is frustrating in its avoidance of such realities, it is one of the better scholarly explanations for theoretical performance studies of those I have previously reviewed.

The approach behind this book is further redeemed as the first chapter on “Situating Pedagogical Performance” begins with a solid quote of children preparing for a performance on March 10, 1687. Then, a firm introduction is given for how children are believed to have been educated. However, this section is summarizing puffing accounts of the existence of an education for both boys and girls that were published by the Workshop, when in reality schools such as the one Aemilia Bassano founded failed soon after opening due to relatively low interest in an education. The Workshop would not have done such good business selling ghostwriting services if the rich wanted to write and read themselves. For example, “Anthony Fletcher’s” thoughts on schools for girls are quoted, but his rhetorical book, Certain Very Proper (1595) matched Richard Verstegan and Gabriel Harvey’s styles as its ghostwriters; this pair also ghostwrote another book that is quoted next, “Henry Peacham’s” Complete Gentleman (1622). The Workshop profited from selling such books to schools, or selling the idea of paying for schooling to wealthy people and then pushing the sale of books as part of this education. Thus, when “Peacham” writes that “learning, then, is an essential part of nobility”, they are selling the appearance of scholarship, or the benefits of purchasing the books they were ghostwriting, rather than recording any actual social appreciation for learning in the non-ghostwriting public of that period. Then, the concept of using performance of rhetorical passages as part of a student’s rhetorical training is described, with a quote from “John Hoskyns’” unpublished notes: “is it not as great an indignity that an excellent conception and capacity, by the indiligence of an idle tongue should be defaced?” (1598-1603) This idea is of special interest because I am about to start attempting to translate Harvey’s textbooks that he published in around 1577-80 under his own byline as he was beginning his term as a Rhetoric professor at Cambridge. I already translated Harvey’s Virtuous Octavia (1598) that includes long speeches that would be very difficult or tedious to watch in performance, but would have allowed the speakers to practice proper pronunciation, projection and other components of convincing oratory. Later comments about the importance of speech-performance are likely to be plagiarizing these types of comments that Harvey wrote as he was preparing his early class lecture notes.

Overall, Winkler does a good job of combining evidence with a description of what this evidence appears to indicate about the performative education of students during this period. But the information could have been clearer if there were more sub-sections on specific subjects and if the chapter titles separated the content more logically. It is also extremely difficult for me to get into this book as I am weighing that most of the quotes on the benefits of education in these decades were probably ghostwritten primarily by Harvey and Verstegan. This presence of ghostwriting skews and alters the interpretation of all this evidence to a degree that is too extensive to explain in a book review. Those who want to read about how past scholars have interpreted the education of Britons in the Early Modern period should not face the obstacles I am facing, and should benefit from this book in their research, or for general or broad understanding of the period.

Intricate Phonological Elements of a Tri-Lingual Mixture

Warren Maguire, Language and Dialect Contact in Ireland: The Phonological Origins of Mid-Ulster English (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020). Hardcover. 206pp. ISBN: 978-1-4744-5290-8.


“An investigation into the phonological origins of Mid-Ulster English (MUE), one of the primary dialects of English in Ireland.” In my recent BRRAM translation of Verstegan’s Restitution, I came to the conclusion that the Celtic branch of European languages originated on the tip of France that was once a county called Brittania, and which still uses the Breton Celtic language. The MUE language is a curious mixture of the Celtic (French-origin) Ulster Irish and the Germanic (Old German-origin) Scots, which is used in nearly a quarter of Ireland or in the Ulster region; it is amazing that more of these branches of Celtic and Germanic languages did not get intermixed in the British Isles, so the study of MUE is a very important linguistic pursuit for understanding linguistic change across this region. “Specifically it is an analysis of the development of the segmental phonology of the dialect and the input to this from English, Scots and Irish. Like other varieties of Irish English, MUE is an extra-territorial, new dialect of English, albeit one which has a history of over 400 years, making it one of the oldest ‘new’ dialects of the language. It developed in a context of contact between English, Scots and Irish in Ulster, the northernmost province of Ireland, as a result of English and Scottish migration to the island during the Plantation of Ulster and its associated settlements in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Understanding the phonological development of MUE requires us to take into account the nature of the contact that occurred between English, Scots and Irish in Ulster as this has determined the kind of dialect that evolved in this part of Ireland. In turn, an analysis of the phonological origins of MUE can help us to clarify aspects of this linguistic history, since the dialect which developed is one of the chief witnesses of this history. This study seeks to determine the phonological origins of MUE, and to understand why the dialect developed the way it did and what the phonology of the dialect can tell us about the nature of contact between the input language varieties.” In other words, was the process of new-language formation artificial or natural; were their specific dictionaries, or other shared texts that solidified this variants usage, or was it a gradual transition that resulted mostly from spoken variation between speakers of these preceding variants?

The body of the book clarifies that Maguire relies only somewhat on the historical or cultural shifts that led to linguistic mutation, and instead primarily focuses on analyzing how the current phonological usage in this MUE variant is different from the variants that were combined in its creation. The study dissects the living language into its components to see what it borrowed from whom, rather than relying on history books to narrate how this intermingling came about. This study is thus clearly designed for advanced scholars in the field of linguistics, as most of the book is spent on explaining consonant and vowel divergences when different letters and sounds are combined in different ways. Anybody who is writing an article on MUE will need to closely study this book, as it explains and deciphers this language in precise detail. More casual readers who hope to find a social-linguistic analysis are likely to only follow the first few historical chapters. There are plenty of visuals, such as figures and tables throughout that help to summarize the complex data and geography. The “Acknowledgements” point out that the author grew up speaking the South-west Tyrone variant of English, which drew her into this type of more complex linguistic analysis. The “Introduction” also clarifies that MUE is indeed a variant of English, as opposed to being merely a mixture of the more foreign Celtic and Germanic languages used around it. And it explains that there “is a considerable degree of variation within MUE” spanning between Belfast English, Northern Irish English, and rural variants such as the author’s native Tyrone (1).

“Fig. 1.1 The linguistic geography of Ulster” provides a visualization of Gregg’s mapping of where MUE was spoken. This type of a map helped be reached my conclusion regarding the origin of Celtic languages in Brittania, so the type of research that comes up with these maps, and explains them is clearly necessary for researchers to understand the origins and flow of languages that have remained clouded by fictitious history until now. Then, again it is difficult to imagine that distinctions between MUE and its three component languages and the various other mixtures of these languages would be easy to distinguish in any study. A speaker might not distinguish between long and short sounds because of their personal style of speaking or greater influence from mainstream English, and this can skew the outcome. And Maguire mentions the survey’s boundaries might be a bit off. As I have moved across the different parts of the US, I have noticed very few actual variations in accents between speakers, as the southern accent is mostly composed of drawing out sounds and muffling them, and this variant is basically the same from Texas to Georgia. This makes me suspicious that the study of accents might have been a strategy designed to divide populations into “others”; a division between southerners and northerners can help a political party capture one of these sides by propagandizing that there is a conflict or a rift between them. Accusations of accents can also be used to explain why somebody with a southern accent might be rejected from a job because they sound less intelligent, just like an obese person might be rejected because obesity is associated with mental decline. It is thus odd that this book does not have a section on how these three difficult languages’ vocabularies are combined in MUE. For example, are there patterns to which common a preferred in which language, or why these preferences occur? Are they watching the save TV shows? Are there different language choices in a newspaper in the MUE variant? While the variants in American Englishes might be somewhat imagined, there is a giant gulf between Celtic and Germanic language branches that should turn into a very different variety when three languages from these branches are intermixed. The introduction considers if the phonological rules of the Irish language are primarily responsible for phonological divergences of MUE, but concludes there might be other contributing factors that are discussed in depth across this study.

A general reader is likely to find this book extremely difficult to follow because it is discussing a range of tiny differences in sound and applying various previous studies to explain these divergences. The main reasons expert linguists should struggle through these complexities is because, as the “Sources and methods” section explains, while most “traditional dialects of English, Scots and Irish” have been documented and studied, this has not been the case for “dialects of IrE, including varieties of MUE”. It might be a simplification to break the linguistic boundaries of the British Isles into three major languages or so and their common variants, when the living languages might be a near-infinite combination of cross-borrowings and accent-adjustment that happens when people interact with those in these different language clusters. Even a single speaker is likely to alter between the language one speaks in one’s youth and what is spoken in old age, and variants change over the decades for most users. A study that evaluates the actual usage and identifies linguistic clusters quantitatively, is far more useful than one that restates the traditional categories or linguistic generalities.  

The more one studies linguistics, the more one realizes languages are incredible inventions with extraordinary variety. Anybody who wants to be overloaded with information on a narrow topic, or specialists in this field will be delighted. General readers who are not prepared for a deep dive should keep away, and allow braver linguists venture forth.

Propagandistic Pro-Monarchical Manipulation of Words and Storylines in “Translations” of Virgil

Ian Calvert, Virgil’s English Translators: Civil Wars to Restoration: Edinburgh Critical Studies in Literary Translation (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021). Hardcover. 200pp. ISBN: 978-1-4744-7564-8.


“This book considers the writers who translated Virgil into English during the civil wars, Interregnum and early years of the Stuart Restoration (c. 1636–c. 1661). It argues that these writers translated and imitated Virgil in order to display and interrogate their political loyalties, articulate personal responses to past traumas, draw attention to the contingent nature of the systems of government which followed the death of Charles I in 1649 (particularly Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate) and express their hopes for the country’s future. This future often, but not invariably, imagined a restored Stuart monarchy under Charles II, and all of the translators in this period spent time in royal service or were associated with the royalist cause. Their writings, however, demonstrate that royalism encompassed a wide variety of opinions, some of which emphasised a sense of duty to an individual or dynasty, but others were more committed to monarchy as an institution or to monarchical forms of government. This book also situates the translations within each author’s wider body of work in order to identify further political resonances in their individual receptions of Virgil and illuminate Virgil’s broader status and cultural function in the period.”

Two different translators working in isolation will create two very different versions when translating a single original text. Thus, if a translator is sponsored to create a propagandistic version of a classical text that attempts to argue for royalism or for the monarchy, the output translation will be a unique form of pointed propaganda, instead of an echo of the original author’s intent. Thus, it is important to study sets of translations that were made with a propagandistic agenda for scholars to distinguish these biases when they study texts that have been translated from dead languages such as Greek. Across my BRRAM series, I found many citations, quotations and allusions to Virgil in the Workshop’s works. Virgil’s Aeneid was first translated into English in 1490, and the availability of this and other pre-Workshop English translations of Greco-Roman classics made it easier for the Workshop to revive, reinterpret, elaborate and eventually to invent new genres and formulas on top of this foundation. The post-Workshop generation was more prone to plagiarize the Workshop’s and preceding efforts in echoes, as scholars have preferred doing since. Thus, this entire book could be put together of basically the same royalist translations that echo each other over the decades. As Calvert states in the introduction: “They wrote to and about each other, and they read, responded to, borrowed from and imitated each other’s works, including their translations from Virgin, which ranged in scope from a few lines to complete renderings of the Virgilian corpus” (1-2). He also explains that one simple way a translator can change the intended meaning of a text is by altering the term poet to the theological concept of the prophet, which was used to suggest prophetic elements in Virgil, or predictions of the future, which were useful in attracting readers who believed such claims and thus bought these otherwise difficult to digest books. The intro also points out that the type of pro-monarchy propaganda in these translations might have shifted history by pointing it towards a return to monarchy, whereas during this period it was just as likely that the democratic Commonwealth rule would remain a constant in Britain; the fact that monarchy is still an institution in Britain, whereas it has been abolished across most of the rest of the world is an indicator that this type of subversive propaganda was extremely effective, and thus needs to be studied, so that we can avoid its sway in the future (7). In some cases, the translators introduced Charles I as a character in frontmatter puffery or the like to directly explain this was pro-Charles propaganda, and not merely puffery of the monarchs in Virgil’s fiction. As an example, Calvert sites two editions of Coopers Hill (an echo of the events in Virgil’s Aeneid 7), the earlier 1642 of which “contains a stag-hunt”, which dramatizes the tragic execution of Charles I, unlike the latter (38).

When I requested this book, I was hoping for a study of the structural and linguistic elements in Virgil in general, so I could understand this author better when he is mentioned in the Renaissance texts I am translating. But instead, this is a study of how propaganda was designed in translations in the post-Workshop period. As an anti-propagandist I am curious about this public-manipulating process, but reading an entire book that recycles the intricate bits of propaganda in the echoing translations and retellings of the same author or even the same text is a bit sleep-inducing, so I will stop here. Those who specialize in the post-Charles I-execution phase of British history, in Virgil, or in political translations will greatly benefit from diving further into this work.

Religiosity Must Include a Close Reading of Religious Books

Edward Feld, The Book of Revolutions (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, September 1, 2022). $29.95: Softcover. 320pp, 6X9”. 1 photograph, 1 map, 6 tables, index. ISBN: 978-0-8276-1522-9.


“The Torah is truly the Book of Revolutions, born from a military coup (the Northern Israelite revolution), the aftermath of an assassination and regency (a Judean revolution), and a quiet but radical revolution effected by outsiders whose ideas proved persuasive (Babylonian exile). Emerging from each of these were three key legal codes—the Covenant Code (Exodus), the Deuteronomic Code (Deuteronomy), and the Holiness Code (Leviticus)—which in turn shaped the Bible, biblical Judaism, and Judaism today. In dramatic historical accounts grounded in recent Bible scholarship, Edward Feld unveils the epic saga of ancient Israel as the visionary legacy of inspired authors in different times and places. Prophetic teaching and differing social realities shaped new understandings concretized in these law codes. Revolutionary biblical ideas often encountered great difficulties in their time before they triumphed. Eventually master editors wove the threads together, intentionally preserving competing narratives and law codes.”

According to Pew Research, Jews make up .2% of the world’s population, while the religions that use the Torah as its Old Testament (Christianity and Islam) add up to 54.7% of the world, whereas all other religions add up to 28.8%. Despite this single origin, many modern wars are over religious disputes between these three religions or within their sub-groups: Muslim Palestine versus Jewish Israel, Christian-majority US versus Muslim-majority Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries. One of the rare exceptions is the Rohingya conflict between Muslims and Buddhists; it stems in WWII when Muslims sided with the British, while the Buddhists sided with Japan, and they have been fighting on and off since. What all of these religious groups can benefit from is a cross-religious education that explains to children how the earliest religions borrowed content from each other. It would also help if the more populous Christian and Muslim believers understood that the Old Testament is primarily a history book about the Jews’ power-struggles or fights for political supremacy, including the revolutions Jews launched against their oppressors to gain rights to practice their own religion. The Torah is mostly a propagandistic account that celebrates warfare as necessary to establish freedom from enslavement, or the annihilation of one’s culture or religion. However, if all sides perceive the world as if they are the wronged party, giving them an excuse to engage in endless religious warfare; then, we end up with our current perpetual conflicts. Thus, it is important to study books like this one that step back from the vague mythology most people imagine when they think of given religions, to examine what exactly the religion is saying to the few who read its holy books closely. Just as it is unadvisable for humans to imitate Caesar’s colonialization of Europe as he describes it in his memoires, it is unadvisable to repeat any religious wars described in any ancient religious histories.  

The “Introduction” explains that the books of the Hebrew Bible are the result of political editing and re-writing over centuries, as opposed to the creation of any single claimed author, such as Moses or Ezra and Nehemiah; the contradictions and lack of fluidity between sections is one of the indicators, as are manuscripts that show the editing process. One thing that such criticism fails to acknowledge is that a single ghostwriter at a later date could have deliberately inserted contradictory passages, so that those who scrutinized these texts for authenticity of the presence of multiple narrators (Moses, Ezra etc.) would believe the contradictions prove that there were multiple writers who did not check earlier versions of the storyline. And I disagree that “dating” these books is an “almost impossible task”, as carbon-dating and other modern approaches would give firm dates to the earliest surviving manuscripts, and this is what this introduction should have mentioned before any further speculation on authorship and dating. This answer can be discovered, but museums and scholars have not wanted to search for this answer because it might date these holy books much later than all scholars currently date them. He does promise he would read these books with the eye of the “historian” or with “suspicion”, but I doubt he really suspected enough of the narrative, as this would have involved checking archeological and DNA data for migration patterns, instead of only checking for inconsistencies, while broadly accepting the narrative as historical (xv-xvii). Feld also explains that he avoids scrutinizing the veracity of the historical narrative, and instead focuses on the law codes that are recorded as having been created in the aftermath of the various revolutionary movements of the Jews. The “Prelude” does dive into rival theories of the Jews’ origin, such as its relationship to Egyptian theology, and migratory patterns in that period. He explains that there are elements in segments such as Genesis that “hint of an alternative origin of the worship of God”, as there were preceding “ancient myths, older histories, and folktales” that contradict the narrative, and there are other tales that echo in the Jewish bible as borrowings from earlier religions (5-6). He also then summarizes the archeological evidence for populations of the Kingdom of Israel and its neighboring Kingdom of Judah (9). Then, in the chapter on “Elijah’s Victory”, Feld describes the archeological evidence that proves the mutation of Israel’s agricultural society in the ninth century BC into “major urban settlements”, which led to the “growth of royal power as well as the emergence of a wealthy leisure class”, increasing the “chasm” with the poor that eventually sparked a revolution (19-20). Overall, narrative explanations of biblical stories are combined with scientific evidence for what might have led to the legal ideologies in revolutionary times.

This is a great book for general readers and specialist theological scholars, as it is written in a mixture of conversational explanations and intricate details that can be followed by all, though perhaps with a bit of digging into the sources being cited. Any person who believes in a religion that has a bible that starts with the Old Testament should read this book, or others like it to gain a rational comprehension of the reasoning that led to Judaism’s instructions on human behavior. Too few of the people who are fighting wars over religion today have read more than cartoon versions of the texts they might die for, and if all of them had read all of these foundational texts, they would have been far less likely to conclude that warfare against any can be a moral exercise. And if these books are convincing people in the morality of violent warfare and revolutions, perhaps we should all put these antiques aside, and read books that promote our own and others’ welfare.

An Exhibitionist Starts a Publishing Empire to Sell Junk-Science

Shanon Fitzpatrick, True Story: How a Pulp Empire Remade Mass Media (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2022). Hardcover. 312pp. ISBN: 978-0-674-26801-2.


“The larger-than-life story of Bernarr Macfadden, a bodybuilder who turned his obsession with muscles, celebrity, and confession into a publishing empire that transformed global media.” It “tells the unlikely story of an orphan from the Ozarks who became one of history’s most powerful media moguls. Born in 1868 in Mill Spring, Missouri, Macfadden turned to bodybuilding to transform himself from a sickly ‘boy’ into a creature of masculine perfection. He then channeled his passion into the magazine Physical Culture, capitalizing on the wider turn-of-the-century mania for fitness. Macfadden Publications soon become a pioneer in mass media, helping to inaugurate our sensational, confessional, and body-obsessed global marketplace. With publications like True Story, a magazine purportedly written and edited by its own readers, as well as scores of romance, crime, and fan magazines, Macfadden specialized in titles that targeted women, immigrants, and the working class. Although derided as pulp by critics of the time, Macfadden’s publications were not merely profitable. They were also influential. They championed reader engagement and interactivity long before these were buzzwords in the media industry, breaking down barriers between producers and consumers of culture. At the same time, Macfadden Publications inspired key elements of modern media strategy by privileging rapid production of new content and equally rapid disintegration and reconfiguration of properties in the face of shifting market conditions. No less than the kings of Hollywood and Madison Avenue, Macfadden was a crucial player in shaping American consumer culture and selling it to the world at large. Though the Macfadden media empire is overlooked today, its legacies are everywhere, from true-crime journalism to celebrity gossip rags and fifteen-minute abs.”

In other words, this book describes how American culture plummeted into the Dark Ages of nonsense that is re-plagiarized in rapid succession, as some of these same formulaic stories of “fifteen-minute abs” and other absurdities are regurgitated to puff products and services of the sponsors (such as the “authors” of these articles, who are also selling themselves as “fitness gurus”).

The “Introduction” opens this book’s marketing campaign for Macfadden by describing this man jumping out of a plane at 84, in a leap that must have been sponsored by the plane company that operated such jumps. On the bright-side, Pitzpatrick is self-aware of this puffery-motive as he explains that Macfadden was so obsessed with “self-promotion” he “once released three different illustrated biographies about himself on the same day”, which all regurgitated the same biographical narrative expanded on across the rest of this book (1). In other words, he hired ghostwriters or a ghostwriter with three pseudonyms to create slightly variant versions that puffed him as a celebrity, knowing that this would convince media sources to repeat such puffery in news pieces about him and his press.

I am having a pretty negative intuitive reaction to this book because of my own tendency to avoid “self-promotion”, but doing the minimum required of such PR activities to remain in the publishing business with my own Anaphora Literary Press for 14 years now. I lost 100 pounds and gained some muscle 5 years ago by going vegan, but I barely mentioned it on social media. Whereas, Macfadden’s biography suggests that just by selling his muscle-gains he was able to capture the attention of the media. But this study really shows that Macfadden succeeded in changing media culture to one that favored fitness over brains, or featured stories about muscles and idiotic leaps from planes as more entertaining and thus sale-generating, than books that enrich the intellect. Then, the fact that Macfadden also “invented exercise devices, held physique competitions, established a physical culture training college in Chicago, and opened vegetarian restaurants and health homes” is touted as additional achievements, when in reality he must have published his Physical Culture magazine primarily to self-advertise his other ventures that were the actual profit-drivers. A college for “physical culture training”? That sounds like more of a scam than Trump University, which at least did not advertise only having a single subject it was teaching that was a self-contradiction (culture + physical) (2).

A positive spin is even given to the fact that Eleanor Roosevelt edited one of Macfadden’s magazines, when this meant that Macfadden was giving money to the First Lady, while her husband was in office; and this probably influenced public policy in ways that favored the scams Macfadden was running selling his snake-oil (3).  

The following chapters proceed chronologically to puff Macfadden’s heroic biography. The first of these chapters concludes with a nude photograph of this man titled, “Fig. 1.1 An image from the 1894 series Prof. B. A. McFadden in Classical Poses” (36). The title clearly suggests that McFadden was a “professor”, while the “B. A.” initials satirically lower this to a mere bachelor’s degree, when he really had no education to speak of and his main achievement had been showing off his body at the Chicago World’s Fair. “Chapter Two” reaffirms this notion as it retitles him as “Professor Macfadden”, and gives heroic appeal to his simple job as a “personal trainer”. In fact, the publishing business started through a collaboration with an actual intellectual, Sandow, via the Macfadden’s Magazine/ Health and Strength; Sandow was then immediately pushed out of the business, as Macfadden probably hired another editor to take over the labor of publishing, so that he could keep most of the profits for himself via a publication he was plagiarizing from the formula developed by Sandow. Probably a ghostwriter Macfadden hired and not Macfadden himself wrote “under various pseudonyms on health-related topics”, while claiming it was written by the readers or by experts in these fields (43).

I previously wrote a book about British and American author-publishers who started publishing companies because of their need to publish their own original work; these included some of the best writers in English history, such as Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens. In contrast, Macfadden’s enterprise is a showcase of how human culture is devolving through the over-reliance on ghostwriters, wherein the least intelligent find audiences among those still less intelligent who want to buy into the idea that total intellectual death is the ideal. I am going to stop this review here, or I am going to get much grumpier.

Anti-Poor-Mother Novel from the Perspective of the Rich

Mary Clearman Blew, Think of Horses: A Novel (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, September 1, 2022). $21.95: Softcover. 294pp, 5.5X8.5”. ISBN: 978-1-4962-2965-6.


“At age seventeen Tam Bowen left her Montana home in disgrace after giving birth to a son out of wedlock. After working her way through college, she settled in Portland, Oregon, where she began making a living for herself and her son by writing soft-porn romance novels. Now, at fifty, Tam is estranged from her son and deeply depressed. She has returned to the cabin in Montana’s Big Snowy Mountains where she grew up, to ponder the choices she has made in her life. At first dismayed by the many changes she finds in the mountain community, Tam gradually makes a few friends and becomes increasingly involved in the lives of two troubled teenagers, who draw her back into the horsemanship she turned away from so many years ago. For Tam, horses provide a sense of stability amid the uncertainty of her new-old life and expose the vulnerability of all the folks who struggle with the vagaries of a tough place.”

Some books have horrid summaries, but are actually great on the inside, so I began this review by scanning the interior and came across this line: “‘He’s home. Acting like a shit, but home…’” And those who start this book from the beginning are going to be met with a laptop journal entry from the main character which is a bit more specific or interesting: “…The subsidized apartment, the food stamps? The howling, colicky baby? The recalcitrant young father, refusing to pay child support although the county authorities pursued him until he moved out of state? The seventeen-year-old watching her life flatlining ahead of her, turning to boxed wine and bottom-shelf bourbon and worse, until the county authorities intervened and took away the boy?”

There are two types of novels from my perspective: those where every word is carefully chosen and designed to bring readers into new revealing moments in the life of the characters, and those that are hacked together by re-re-repeating the same broad depressing (if literary fiction) or uplifting (if pop fiction) ideas that are promised in the premise or the back-cover summary. This novel is the latter case. The author has set out from this premise to deliver a recycled repetition of the idea that single mothers lead lives of depressed misery that force them into porn-writing if not porn-doing. I am not even disagreeing with this premise, as this is one of the reasons I avoided having any children while impoverished across the past couple of decades. But if I had chosen to write an entire novel about what would have happened if I had made the horrid decision to reproduce 20 years ago, I would have explained precisely what would have prevented me from finding employment or moving my life forward. For example, the line about food stamps in the intro is good, but it would have been better if the author described budgeting for two on these food stamps, and how exactly she was paying for a place to live on the $200 or so stipend given for all other living expenses. The food stamps are relatively enough to pay for food, while the rest of the welfare given to the poor is atrociously low, so that those who are unemployed most likely end up homeless in the US. A “subsidized apartment” takes about 7 years on a waiting list to win. How did this single-mother manage to get one while her kid is still a baby and she just moved into a new city without employment (if she had employment, even for a few hours, she would not qualify for subsidized housing in most situations). And since this mother has also moved out-of-state, if the father’s move was the problem, why didn’t she move into the same state as the one he absconded to? This book is written as if a millionaire-from-birth decided to write about how it would have sucked if he/she had been born poor instead, and then recycles stuff about poor people he/she has heard in the mass-media, while propagandizing against child-bearing and poor-being. Instead of figuring out who even gets a subsidized apartment, the author instead keeps digressing into random philosophical nonsense like, “Why does this country silence contain, besides faint country music, a tension between Tam and the man in the opposite armchair?” (19) This sentence just sounds like a few disconnected ideas somebody had while on the second bottle of bourbon, and perhaps that’s the general mode the author is going for.

This book will make anybody who ventures into it deeply nauseous, disoriented, and broadly depressed. If you are searching for something to put you into a state of drunkenness even without consuming alcohol this book might help you get there. I did not request this or any other novels, but at least two have arrived, so I will review them, but I am not happy about it.

Full User-Guide to the Atakapa Native Language

Geoffrey Kimball, Yukhiti Koy: A Reference Grammar of the Atakapa Language (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, August 1, 2022). $65: Hardcover. 318pp, 7X10”. 2 photographs, 2 tables, 3 appendixes, index. ISBN: 978-1-4962-2966-3.


“Geoffrey Kimball presents the first grammar of the American Indian language Yukhíti Kóy, better known in English as Atakapa, once spoken in coastal southwestern Louisiana and coastal eastern Texas. The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries saw a drastic fall in the Atakapa population, and by the first decades of the twentieth century the Atakapa language ceased to be spoken. The grammar is based on the field notes collected by Albert Samuel Gatschet in January of 1885, with additional material collected by John R. Swanton in 1907-8. Gatschet worked with two speakers of the language, Kišyuc, also known as Yoyot, and her cousin Tottokš, whose English names were Louison Huntington and Delilah Moss, respectively. John R. Swanton wrote a grammatical sketch of Atakapa in 1929 based on Gatschet’s notes and in 1932 published the texts Gatschet had gathered, as well as a dictionary. The materials, originally written phonetically, have been phonemicized, and the nature of the grammar has been elucidated. The nine surviving texts in Yukhíti have been phonemicized, analyzed, and translated, and the parallels between them and other traditional oral literatures of Native American languages of the Southeast are discussed. This reference grammar includes a vocabulary of all words contained in the field notes.”

This is the best book I have reviewed so far that presents a dead or dying language in its full linguistic complexity to allow all who read it closely enough to use it to create new texts, or to translate any texts or spoken examples that might be found in the future of its usage. Other language books I have reviewed have focused on phonology, or have given translations without combining these fields in a practical manner that would allow somebody unfamiliar with these distant languages to catch up through studying only this single volume, and without needing to access archival or other difficult to find remotely sources. The summary of the project above is also great as it explains exactly what is included and places the texts and language into a context. The “Contents” page separates the book into sections on phonology, verb/verbal and noun/nominal morphology, syntax (word-order), 9 texts in Yukhiti Koy together with their translations into English, and a dictionary of Yukhiti-English vocabulary. It is amazing how few scholarly books manage to create such simple and precise divisions between sections to assist and welcome readers to go to the sections that fit their interests or needs.

I just finished translating a dictionary from Old English in Verstegan’s Restitution, and it is refreshing to find the precise dictionary breakdown in this dictionary. Though, some of the entries might have benefited from having more synonyms to describe words. For example, yolis is defined separately as “to be old” and “wolf”, while most words such as yok are only defined singularly, or as “to sing”, when they probably also refer to slightly different types of sound-making, as opposed to merely singing, as languages rarely have terms that mean precisely what an equivalent word means in another language.

The “Preface” introduces a similar problem to the Pliny’s reference to “Canarii”, which can be translated as “Dog People”. The Choctaw name for this tribe was hattak apa, which means “eaters of human beings”. Kimball stresses there is no evidence of cannibalism among this tribe, but he fails to consider that this reference is an indicator that those who described this tribe were anti-nativist or were writing anti-propaganda that dehumanized these Native Americans, as part of the invading colonialists grab of their land. It is common to find natives across the world referred to as cannibals, whereas few populations are likely to call themselves or their neighbors by such names. It is also suspicious that the man credited for recording most of the language while it was still in use sent out a similar “plea for more people to work on the language” to the one Verstegan appears to have sent out as he was forging some texts he was crediting as being authentic Old English documents, when he was really translating them himself from Latin laws and biblical texts into Old English (with very broken results). These hints raise questions about the authenticity of this language, or the likelihood that it was based on a few words that were recorded centuries ago before a language died, and then enterprising linguists made up a language to sell books. On the other hand, even if the language was invented by linguists, it is amazing that this book could be put together to invite all others to use it as well. More new languages should be invented to test what is possible with linguistic restructuring. From a more positive perspective, it would have been more difficult to invent an entirely new language, than to ask a surviving user to record its rules before taking credit for this linguistic work, and editing bits of it to refer to the people as cannibals and the like. Though I have a pretty negative view of humanity after studying the Renaissance Workshop for a few years.

It is difficult to tell if the inconsistencies Kimball notices in the application of the “Future Continuative” -nt- + -o suffix, as well as the alternative string -ki-nt-o indicate language users that made spelling errors as is the case with most of Old English (which has many alternative spellings and meanings for most words), or if it might be a sign of inconsistent language-invention. But I’ll stop thinking about this conundrum, and will assume it is a genuine ancient language.

The table that lists how the phonemes are pronounced in this language certainly points to linguistic intricacy, as, for example, c is pronounced as ts or occasionally as ch (3). Kimball is careful to point out that some of the grammatical conclusions he reaches across this book are merely speculations of likely usage (due to an absence of data to determine with certainty), as for example the presence of “two primary pitch levels: high, which Gatschet marked with an accent, and mid, which remains unmarked” (7). It is always a good sign when an author points to speculations, in contrast with certain or firmly known facts, as if this distinction is not made, one can assume the author is drawing many speculations without explaining that they are not firm-facts. The formatting of the words in Yukhiti Koy with the translations of each of them into English is another helpful feature, as in Restitution, Verstegan places such sentences in strings that make it difficult to figure out to which of the words the translated terms are referring to. One among many of the other curiosities about this language is this explanation: “A root noun may be converted into a verb by changing the pitch of the accent syllable of the noun in the aorist mode or by adding verbal suffices in any mode” (76).

A close analysis of a different linguistic system like this one can help English linguists to understand the past changes and future possibilities of what English could become if it is allowed to flex to meet the changing world. The Renaissance Workshop doubled the dictionary of words between Middle and Early Modern English. While words have been added since that point to turn it into Modern English, the grammatical glitches, such as inconsistent applications of plural forms, have remained unchanged since Early Modern times as if the language is a bible that nobody is willing to edit without committing sacrilege. This is why all linguists should study more than their own native language to realize the range of alternatives that might enhance our ability to communicate more fully and easily. Those with a casual curiosity in dead Native American language, as well as specialists in this subject will find something in this book to enrich their understanding of our world (even despite my gnawing skepticism). 

Digressive Theologically-Philosophical Fiction Presented as Biographies of Painters

Spike Bucklow, Children of Mercury: The Lives of the Painters (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, July 5, 2022). $22.50: Cloth hardcover. 224pp, 5.5X8.5”. 23 color plates, 5 halftones. ISBN: 978-1-78914-523-6.


“Following ‘the seven ages of man’ from infancy to death… a new account of the lives of premodern painters… through… a widespread belief made famous in the ‘All the world’s a stage’ speech in Shakespeare’s As You Like It… Follows artists’ lives from infancy through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, to maturity, old age, and death. He tracks how lives unfolded for both male and female painters, from the famous, like Michelangelo, through Artemisia Gentileschi and Mary Beale, to those who are now forgotten, like Jehan Gillemer. The book draws on historic biographies, the artists’ writings, and, uniquely, the physical evidence offered by their paintings.”

The table of contents and the “Prologue” clarify that this book is a collage of scattered bits of biographical information about a range of different painters that is separated by their stages of life (i.e., childhood, old age), instead of treating them separately (since each has already had biographies dedicated only to them (7). It does not bode well when the author digresses into philosophizing generalities such as: “We all grow and age.” And then descends into claiming the idea of the “seven stages” of life stems from a “pagan and Christian tradition”. I just finished translating Verstegan’s fiction about the “Anglo-Saxon” pagan “tradition”. Bucklow even refers to the “Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn”, or the seven visible heavenly bodies (10) that Verstegan claims are the basis for the days of the week along with the German pagan deities he claimed they represented. And the “Shakespeare”-bylined As You Like It was ghostwritten by Ben Jonson long after Shakespeare is supposed to have died in 1616 for the 1623 Folio. Bucklow appears to have fallen into the trap of believing in the mystical power of these fictional theological divisions the Workshop created and repeated. This type of delusion cannot lead to a useful biographical account of how painters lived. The lives of the painters are really useful for those who want to become painters and need examples of how great painters of the past achieved their status or started in these fields. But if their lives are mythologized or generalized, then nobody really benefits except those who are searching for theological escapism. Bucklow attempts to conclude his introduction with the claim: “even if a painter thought the soul’s cosmic journey was a complete fiction, they would still have recognized the value of that fiction” (14). No. Painters were real people who dedicated their lives to the practice of painting extremely intricate paintings, developing the skills that required a lifetime of dedication to this craft. They could not afford to be distracted by fictions, but rather had to focus on the physical labor of painting. Bucklow’s over-reliance on drawing conclusions based on theological intuition leads him to conclude that Artemisia Gentileschi had a “long relationship with Galileo” because she drew gushing blood, while he drew scientific sketches of “parabolic paths of projectiles” over a decade later (82). Additionally, many of the biographical stories related are legends, as opposed to being those based on documented contemporaneous facts. For example, when discussing how sensitive painters are to censorship, Bucklow describes that once Paolo Uccello “unveiled his fresco and Donatello asked: Isn’t it time you veiled it?’ Even though the two were good friends, Uccello was broken-hearted, went home and hardly came out again. The story was told by Vasari over a century later and may be an invention” (95). Another problem here is with the citation at the back of the book for Vasari. Bucklow cites Giorgio Vasari’s 1912-5 edition of Lives, when the first edition of it was published back in the Renaissance in 1550, or closer to the century between it and Donatello’s lifetime between 1386-1466. Especially when such dating is essential to the meaning of a section, a citation really should include the original and the cited publication dates. And the Renaissance and the century that followed it included a great deal of biographical fiction-writing, including the creation of biographies for Renaissance “authors” by Anthony Wood decades after all members of the Renaissance Workshop died, on a grant sponsored by Oxford University mostly to puff their past students that had paid for ghostwriting services and thus had books published with their bylines on them. Any biography that does not cite contemporary sources, and adds new information decades or a century after the lives of those covered is a work of fiction, and should not be repeated by modern scholars without specifying that it is fiction. Bucklow does mention this possibility here, but he relies too heavily on such myths across the book.

It is unlikely that anybody will benefit from reading this book. Those who are specialists looking for specific information will only find theological philosophizing, digressions and brief mentions in piles of unrelated content. And casual readers will be inundated in the author’s speculations about pagan theology, instead of any entertaining, readable or useful information about the artists mentioned.

A History of the Unlost and Thriving Maya

Megan E. O’Neil, The Maya: Lost Civilization (London: Reaktion Books, July 12, 2022). $25: Cloth hardcover. 296pp, 5.5X8.5”. 60 color plates, 24 halftones. ISBN: 978-1-78914-550-2.


“…The myriad communities who have engaged with the ancient Maya over the centuries. This book reveals how the ancient Maya—and their buildings, ideas, objects, and identities—have been perceived, portrayed, and exploited over five hundred years in the Americas, Europe, and beyond. Engaging in interdisciplinary analysis, the book summarizes ancient Maya art and history from the preclassical period to the Spanish invasion, as well as the history of outside engagement with the ancient Maya, from Spanish invaders in the sixteenth century to later explorers and archaeologists, taking in scientific literature, visual arts, architecture, world’s fairs, and Indigenous activism. It also looks at the decipherment of Maya inscriptions, Maya museum exhibitions and artists’ responses, and contemporary Maya people’s engagements with their ancestral past.”

The chapters are organized thematically for the first three chapters and then chronologically by centuries. There is a helpful “Chronology” at the beginning to orient readers with the outline of Mayan history. It notes that there was a “Burning of Maya effigies and books at Mani (Yucatan, Mexico)” in 1562 or at the onset of colonialism; this is likely to have destroyed many of the sources that might have built a much thicker and better-informed history about the Maya. Another curious point is that in 1827 a law passed “prohibiting the export of antiquities”. It is curious considering how antiquities of the Maya have been exploited since in museums and the like; it might have been designed to assist tourism growth to this region, as a few decades later museums were opened there. Then, the “Preface” makes a good point in stating that most people tend to think of the Maya as a “lost” civilization, akin to the dead Atakapa language, but the Maya language and civilization continued to exist from their ancient past into the present, so it as vibrant a history as any other civilization with ancient roots around the world. Another useful point that far too few studies of ancient civilizations mention is that the Maya might have experienced “several major collapses”, but they “kept reorganizing and migrating, and never disappeared” (15). Too many historians cannot imagine that people across the distant past were also migratory, just as we are today; if a society falls, the logical solution is to move where the economy or environment is still intact. Waves of such major migrations between populations that are traditionally isolated with titles such as “Maya” or “Roman” and intermingling of races and cultures across human history have been unmentioned by historians who have preferred “pure race” theories that guess people remained in their native lands from a theological or divine single-origin migration. Such thinking is not confirmed in the archeological evidence, and we would be better off if we all allowed that migration is the normal state of human activity. Another good point opens chapter “One: Art and Architecture”, as O’Neil points out that the “Maya was composed of loosely affiliated political entities that occupied many sites throughout southern Mexico and Central America” (19); in contrast, most users of this term imagine it as a single nation; the dictionary definition of “Maya” is as an ethnolinguistic group, which might be closer to referring to ancient “Europeans”, as opposed to distinguish between European nations into the “French”, “Germans” and the like. O’Neil elaborates: “the people today called ‘Maya’ did not perceive a shared ethnic identity in the sixteenth century or before European arrival” (20). As Europeans used it, the term “Maya” initially referred to the use of the Mayan language and then gradually grouped those who spoke this language into an ethnic group. The description of Mayas worshipping rulers as “supernatural entities such as the sun, moon and Maize God” (22) might have inspired Verstegan’s re-application of such worship of natural entities to “Anglo-Saxon” or German and later British pagan theologies; early visitors to Mayas’ temples might have brought back information about this theology that might have been misappropriated by Renaissance theological-fiction writers like Verstegan. It would be stranger if the Maya had borrowed theological beliefs from Europeans, as they were supposed to have been isolated from the European continent and its culture across their history. These types of studies are guaranteed to trigger these types of speculations, and this is precisely why they are essential for humanity, as it continues trying to understand itself.

The illustrations across this book are superb. For example, one diagram sketches the drawings that represented pa + ka + la to mean shield and the more elaborate drawing that combined pakal + la to refer to a ruler called K’inich Janaab Pakal (meaning: Radiant Flower Shield). The latter includes eyes, a nose and mouse, while the first looks like a little ball with two legs. These types of hieroglyphs are far more elaborate that the glyphs that were used in Egypt and other early European or Asian writing systems (26-7). The sculptures, bowls and other artifacts from BC are far more advanced than any artifacts from these centuries that have been found in Europe. And the bark paper Dresden Codex from Mexico from 14th-15th century (47), or from before Europeans’ arrival, looks better as than some European published books from this period, as it uses clear lettering and steady-hand and intricate illustrations.

Overall, this book warmly invites readers to casually read it cover-to-cover, as it introduces this culture gradually enough to avoid losing students, but also rapidly enough for them not to get bored. This would make a great addition to a high school or college history class either entirely or partially dedicated to the Maya. Public and academic libraries should definitely carry a copy of it in their collection, so students or researchers can find it if it is needed. The refreshingly unbiased perspective on the Maya taken in this book should make it into a useful tool for specialists in this field, as it might help to change their preset perspective.

A Rational Critique of the Absurdities of the “war on drugs”

P. E. Caquet, Opium’s Orphans: The 200-Year History of the War on Drugs (London: Reaktion Books, June 14, 2022). $35: Cloth hardcover. 440pp, 6X9”. ISBN: 978-1-78914-558-8.


“Upending all we know about the war on drugs, a history of the anti-narcotics movement’s origins, evolution, and questionable effectiveness.” This “is the first full history of drug prohibition and the ‘war on drugs.’ A no-holds-barred but balanced account, it shows that drug suppression was born of historical accident, not rational design. The war on drugs did not originate in Europe or the United States, and even less with President Nixon, but in China. Two Opium Wars followed by Western attempts to atone for them gave birth to an anti-narcotics order that has come to span the globe. But has the war on drugs succeeded? As opioid deaths and cartel violence run rampant, contestation becomes more vocal, and marijuana is slated for legalization,” it “proposes that it is time to go back to the drawing board.”

The last time I taught college English at UTRGV (positioned right on the Mexican border) back in 2017, the topic of drugs came up, and I asked a student how illegal drugs could ever be traded in ethically if the drugs in question are poisons that can kill the users. The student did not respond, and signaled he agreed with the sentiment. However, it is also unethical to create a legal environment where businessmen trading in a given good have to massacre thousands to escape imprisonment over running this trade despite laws instructing them not to. This “war” also tends to harm civilians who are innocent of any involvement with this trade. For example, in the case of Breonna Taylor’s shooting, the events were triggered because, according to New York Times, Louisville police were investigating “two men who they believed were selling drugs out of a house that was far from Ms. Taylor’s home”. Ms. Taylor was dating one of these two men, and the police claimed he was receiving packages out of her apartment. However, Ms. Taylor broke up with that guy and was now dating Kenneth Walker, who happened to bring a gun with him for their tryst. The police did not knock before breaking the door, and triggering Mr. Walker to fire a shot that injured Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly, which then triggered the lethal response against both Ms. Taylor and Mr. Walker. Several elements of this case would have been nullified if there was no “war on drugs”: 1. The men selling drugs would not have raised any police concern, as their activities would have been akin to selling fake handbags; 2. Walker would not have brought a gun with him to a lover’s-meeting, if he was not involved in illegal activities related to drugs, or was not living in a neighborhood that was prone to shootings because of the stresses of the drug-trade; 3. A judge would not have approved a warrant with only hearsay accusations of drug-dealing if it was not part of a militant “war” against “others” who are perceived as committing grave social harm through their trade (even if they are not actively violent as part of this business). I do not drink, smoke or do any illegal (or legal in most cases) drugs; I am even vegan, and think killing animals is a form of social harm. However, the neighbor who sued those cops had a good point, when you can be sleeping in your apartment without a thought of drugs, and you can be shot through the wall because there is a domestic “war” going on against an industry. It is clearly always immoral to sell a poisonous product that is likely to kill its consumers, but killing and mass-imprisoning the drug-dealers has only pushed them into murderous strategies that have exploded rates of drug-usage, without any positive outcomes via any lowering of death-from-overdose rates. The national Prohibition on alcohol in the US lasted between 1920-1933, and the first national Marihuana Tax Act was struck in 1937, before it was outlawed in 1970; America’s government appears to have figured out during the alcohol prohibition that it can swindle enormous sums through law enforcement and other budgetary spending venues when fighting an enemy like alcohol or drugs that is widely used, whereas if such enemies do not exist, the government has to shrink in such fields and instead actually spend money on things that take brains such as infrastructure development. Thus, the concept behind this book is one that clearly needs to be more closely explored by policy-makers.

The “Prologue” explains that the idea of calling drugs like “opium” as a “deadly poison” originated with the Chinese government’s response that preceded the Opium Wars. This declaration appeared as China’s Qing dynasty became “the first state to ban drugs, or at least the first to do so on the basis of justifications that remain relevant today.” Though China had started issuing edicts against opium a century earlier back in 1729, whereas the quoted opening edict was issued in 1817. Caquet points out: China’s opium smokers could not have numbered more than a few tens of thousands in 1813 – at most 10,000 to 20,000, if taken to mean addicts” out of “300 million”; their annual consumption per capita at “(1.3 lb) per thousand annually was actually lower than that of England and Wales in comparable period, at… (1.6 lb) per thousand”, where it was used as pain-killer. In other words, humans consumed drugs in much smaller and safer qualities across the world before this ban than the outrageous usage statistics of today. The declaration also combined legal punishments with theological accusations of immorality, and labeled evil foreigners as the traffickers who were responsible for bringing in the drugs. The foreigners in that case were in India and the Middle East, but the Opium Wars were eventually irrationally fought against Britain (10). These strategies are plagiarized in modern American anti-drugs propaganda. Caquet also breaks the standard propaganda by pointing out that Nixon was not the “hero” who declared this war as the popular media repeats, but instead it was more the work of President Eisenhower back in 1954 who called for “a new war on narcotic addiction” (11). In comparison to the rare usage of drugs before these prohibitions, now 5% of the world’s total population use “illegal drugs” (12). And while Caquet does not mention this statistic, 66% of the US population are taking “prescription drugs, and much of this usage causes harm including death from overdoses.

Across this book, facts about the scientific nature of drugs like the “Peruvian coca leaf” (15) are presented without fear of stepping on moralistic propaganda that prevents most non-illegal-drug-users from openly questioning the “war on drugs”. This is a very dense and sober study that compacts an incredibly variety of information into this book’s pages. Browsers will find curious descriptions of literary references to hashish in French literature (177), and there are explanations for how scientists created an amphetamines epidemic by initially failing to note that they were addictive in most who took them as prescribed treatments, and that habitual usage could trigger side effects such as “paranoid schizophrenia” (216).

Thus, any member of the public who wants to campaign for the legalization of drugs needs to put this book on their must-read list. And government officials who can influence drug-prohibition policies have an even greater need to read this book to avoid making false statements about drugs that are based on pop-media portrayals instead of on rational research. Thus, all types of libraries should have this book on their shelves to make it accessible, and professors teaching in this area should consider adding it as a textbook.

The Fourth Largest GDP Is at a British Tropical Island Built by Enslaved Africans

Michael J. Jarvis, Isle of Devils, Isle of Saints: An Atlantic History of Bermuda, 1609-1684 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, May 31, 2022). $65: Hardcover. 528pp. ISBN: 978-1-4214-4360-7.


“How can the small, isolated island of Bermuda help us to understand the early expansion of English America? First discovered by Europeans in 1505, the island of Bermuda had no indigenous population and no permanent European presence until the early seventeenth century. Settled five years after Virginia and eight years before Plymouth, Bermuda is a foundational site of English colonization. Its history reveals strikingly different paths of potential colonial development as a place where slave-owning puritan tobacco planters raised large families, engaged overseas markets, built ships, created a Christian commonwealth, hanged witches, wrestled to define racial difference, and welcomed godly pirates raiding Spanish America… Recounts Bermuda’s turbulent, dynamic past from the Sea Venture’s dramatic 1609 shipwreck through the 1684 dissolution of the Bermuda Company. He argues that the island was the first of England’s colonies to produce a successful staple, form a stable community, turn a profit, transplant civic institutions, and harness bound African knowledge and labor. Bermuda was a tabula rasa that fired the imaginations of English thinkers aspiring to create an American utopia. It was also England’s first puritan colony, founded as a covenanted Christian commonwealth in 1612 by self-consciously religious settlers who committed themselves to building a moral society. By the 1670s, Bermuda had become England’s most densely populated possession and was poised to become an intercolonial maritime hub after freeing itself from its antiquated parent company. The first scholarly monograph in eighty years on this important, neglected colony’s first century…”

Bermuda is around 3/4th of the way across the Atlantic Ocean from England to North America. It became oddly enough part of the Colony of Virginia in 1612, but it did not join America in the Revolutionary War, and thus it is still a sovereign state within the United Kingdom. There were only 70,000 Bermudians in 2018, and at this low count it was Britain’s most populous overseas territory. Because Bermuda is a notorious tax haven, its GDP, at $123,945, is the fourth largest when it is listed on its own (as opposed to as part of the larger United Kingdom that has the 30th largest GDP among countries). However, the tax haven financial manipulations are responsible for these inflated numbers, though even when the real GDP is considered, Bermuda is the richest black-majority country at $50,669. As I have been studying ghostwriting in the Renaissance, I came across several exploration travelogues by adventurers such as Raleigh to have been ghostwritten by the Workshop; some of the early settlements of which no surviving signs have been recovered might have also been merely fictions written to establish Britain’s possessions of parts of Canada and other parts of the New World to which it was not economical to travel to first, but which could have become financially viable in the future. Settling Bermuda would have been a primary objective, as it was far enough into the cross-ocean trip to be a necessary re-supply stop. Slave trade shipping began into Britain and USA to explode by around 1626, so most of the exploration propaganda that was written to puff these New lands was probably written with British white settlers in mind.

Bermuda was discovered early in Spain’s voyages across the Atlantic to the Americas, or perhaps as early as in 1495 (11). These early visits should have laid a historical claim to the island for Spain, but then a single shipwreck in 1609 by an English ship was sufficient for it to claim rights through “wreck and redemption”. Jarvis points out that England’s colonialization record was “mixed” prior to 1609, as it succeeded in cod-fishing and Caribbean piracy, which had triggered in part the war with Spain in 1588 that culminated in the failed invasion by the Spanish Armada. Then, in 1609 the stock of the Virginia company started to do well. But while on the path to Virginia, an English ship experienced the shipwreck in Bermuda that led to its inclusion in the Virginia charter and a refocus on its settlement. This was partially because the wrecked crew realized “how easy” it was “to live off the land” in Bermuda because it has a wealthy of easily accessible food, such as “heart-leaves”, berries, prickly pears. Leaves should easily provide shelter, and wells could easily be dug in the soft ground to get water (19-20). However, as the wrecked crew were asked to perform hard labor to create a boat for the rest of the trip to Virginia, there was a murder and brewing rebellion threatened to form. In 1612, a group of fifty “volunteer” settlers hoping for a share of the profits, with funding from investors began to settle Bermuda (36). Enslaved Africans began to be shipped into Bermuda in 1616, but their status was not legally confirmed, as the term “slave” first appeared in 1617 to refer to a white man who had committed sedition and was termed as a “slave to the colony”. Blacks’ status was unclarified in part because their owners were absentee abroad, and they mostly labored under similar conditions with the white laborers until the 1630s when privateers began selling slaves directly to Bermudians. “The working and living arrangements of black individuals and families approximated those of white tenants and servants also (albeit temporarily) bound to the company, English landlords, and local agents”. The whites and blacks of this laboring class lived “in the large quarters adjoining the governor’s house in St. George’s” (120-3).

Overall, this is a great book to read casually for those who are personally interested in the topics of colonialism and the slave trade. Those who are searching for a tax haven might also enjoy reading a bit about this place before deciding where to park their money, and why so many people around the world choose this particular island destination. And scholars of Bermuda’s history will find a wealth of citations and an easy-to-follow historical narrative that will give them a broad as well as many narrow perspectives on this devilish paradise.

Informative Collection of Factual and Fictitious Rare Maps of Our and Other Worlds

Megan Barford, A Is for Atlas: Wonders of Maps and Mapping (London: National Maritime Museum: Greenwich, 2022). $45: Hardcover. 256pp. Color illustrations and photographs. ISBN: 978-1-9063679-3-0.


“Charts and globes from one of the United Kingdom’s major map collections. A sumptuous, lavishly illustrated celebration of cartography, featuring charts, maps, globes, and atlases from the map collections at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. This volume explores the variety of stories hidden within the collections, including materials, techniques, makers, users, genres, and features to understand more about the different worlds in which maps were produced and consumed. From imperial rule to labor solidarity, and from sumptuous display to scrap paper…”

This book arrived just before a rainstorm and sat outside on the porch for hours as it was soaked, and yet because of it being wrapped in plastic it survived fully intact. The design of the cover and interior are also great for display shelves. It is also a great virtual-travel tool for anybody who likes to view museum collections’ art, but prefers to do so from their own home and cheaply, instead of flying across the Atlantic and staying in over-priced motels. The design is so well thought-out that even the contents page is imitating a chemical-table with letters in boxes followed by the titles of the chapters that match the exact number of letters in the alphabet. And the pages are made of maximum-thickness, polished color paper that would make great posters if anybody wants to mutilate this book for the sake of posting these beautiful images on their walls.

The “Introduction” opens with the impact Emmy Ingeborn Brun’s 1909 fictional map of optical-illusion canals on Mars impacted the perception of humans on the possibility that there are artificial canals on this foreign planet where aliens might have lived. In my BRRAM translation of Verstegan’s Restitution, I briefly studied “Lambarde’s” drawing of the first fictional map of the British Heptarchy, or the legendary seven kingdoms. And the standard modern map of the world is an erroneous west-centric representation of the world called the Mercator projection into 2D of the globe that was made back in the 1500s; as it presents North America in Europe as much larger than they really are in true-scale maps of real relative size of countries (such as the one designed by Neil Kaye) that shows Africa is a couple of times larger than North America, South America larger than North America, and the like. These are just some examples of how the antique maps created from the Renaissance have been contributing to humans misunderstanding of our world. Thus, it is necessary to study these maps in a collection like this one to figure out what they are distorting and why.

Another curious map is the one that shows the “south at the top” from 1567, as the placement of the global south in the bottom might have contributed to lower investment and a devaluing of that lower region of the world (8). There are also some revealing newer maps, like the map of Lesvos that guided refugees arriving on the island in 2015 (16-7). There are also some maps with Arabic writing on them, such as the map of Mesopotamia from before 1282 (129).

This is just an amazing book from cover-to-cover. It is designed for general readers who need to understand how maps manipulate our perception, as well as to learn about some curious versions of maps that presented variant narratives. And it should be very useful to modern map-makers who are researching the type of maps that might appeal to buyers of specialty items, such as those with mythological illustrations, or with mountains made out of gold or other precious metals or stones. And for those who are regularly updating the maps we use daily, this is a good guide in approaches to map-making they might not have considered. Thus, all types of libraries should have a copy of this map in their collections, and professional art classes in fields such as graphic design can teach it as a textbook.

About Sad Single-Mother and the Dad that Killed the Baby-Daddy: Formulaic Repetition #2

Kate Anger, The Shinnery: A Novel (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, September 1, 2022). $21.95: Softcover. 268pp, 6X9”. 1 map. ISBN: 978-1-4962-3138-3.


“Seventeen-year-old Jessa Campbell thrives on the Shinnery, her family’s homestead in 1890s Texas, bordered by acres of shin oaks on the rolling plains. Without explanation her father sends her away to settle a family debt. A better judge of cattle than of men, Jessa becomes entangled with a bad one. Everything unravels after she puts her trust in Will Keyes. When Jessa returns home to the Shinnery, pregnant and alone, her father goes on a mission of frontier justice, with devastating consequences. In the aftermath Jessa fights for her claim to the family farm and for a life of independence for herself and her sisters. A story of coming-of-age, betrayal, and revenge, The Shinnery is inspired by the author’s family history and a trial that shook the region.”

There is clearly a pattern here of the University of Nebraska Press currently preferring novels about miserable unwed or single mothers, as this formula is also used in the other novel they sent (without request) for my review, or Mary Clearman Blew’s Think of Horses. This version is just more wistful and less violently depressive, and is set a century earlier. The “Prologue” is at least more poetical, as it runs through the formulaic mentions of grass, tree-types, water-type, clothing-type, and the general anticipation of a man coming that is causing a woman deep discomfort (1). Then, chapter “1” starts a year earlier (presumably before she was knocked-up), with another description of another man approaching, and now of shopping for a long, detailed grocery list. Then the dialogue begins by pointing out the characters are unintelligent, as Jessa uses the singular term “seed” instead of “seeds”, though the narrator also uses this form, seemingly to describe the type of “proprietary seed”, as opposed to the quantity of seeds one would purchase. The woman’s query is met with a brisk response, so she is “irked” that the man of the house thinks of her as a “child” and not a “partner in this venture” (3). The lack of an answer is probably more dehumanizing than merely thinking of the woman as a “child”. While these types of situations tend to be used as if the woman’s objections make it a feminist statement, they really reinforce extreme gender stereotypes against women as below-child-worthy. The placement of settings for such novels are deliberately placed a century or more into the past to make it seem as if the sexism is historically accurate, and thus does not represent how the author perceives or wants to portray female characters. The non-answer also sets up the non-answer conversational style across the book, as common answers are between two and four words, such as, “I’ll take it”, or “It’s clean” (77). Pages are filled with these types of verbal violence where characters are saying something, but really refusing to communicate and this stretches their abrupt conversations into pages until they finally get across whatever minor point was needed to carry the plot to the next conversation. And narrative paragraphs tend to make broad or formulaic claims about the characters’ emotional state, or psychological reactions to each other; for example, a mere direct look in the eyes, prompts the assumption that “he did not trust her” (127). As the book nears a conclusion, the narrative zooms into the reaction of male authority figures to the woman being knocked-up. As the entire “community” of the town “rallied to the cause of a righteous man, acting in the only way expected when a scoundrel violated the innocence of a daughter.” As an example, the editor of the town paper, Lasso, writes that violence is necessary to protect “sanctity of hearth and home” (182-3). Apparently, her father murdered the man that got her pregnant, after being mostly non-verbal with her across most of the rest of the book. The book concludes with a bunch of girls laughing at something being “ugly” because “It felt good to laugh. Jessa felt scrubbed clean by it” (252). In other words, the laughter is used in place of a worked-for resolution to release tension in the reader’s imagination, and to suggest that the laughter was a reward for a positive outcome for the heroine in this happy ending for a novel about a homicide.

It is amazing how these publishers can keep releasing these formulaic bits of repetition that say nothing, while putting the same dehumanizing, anti-feminist, and anti-humanist ideas on-repeat across hundreds of pages. I hope this review will help Nebraska to say “no” to similar projects in the future. Or alternatively, if you want to write a novel in this formula, apparently Nebraska will be very interested in publishing it.

Great Illustration of Wistful Monasteries After Their Fall

Richard H. Taylor, A Thousand Fates: The Afterlife of Medieval Monasteries in England & Wales (London: Unicorn Publishing, August 2022). £30: Hardcover. 164pp. 48 illustrations. ISBN: 978-1-914414-71-8.


“Explores the afterlife of medieval monasticism in England and Wales. A thousand years of monasticism came to an abrupt end in the mid-sixteenth century with the Dissolution of the Monasteries. At its peak two hundred years earlier, many people chose the contemplative life, while the rich sought salvation through the foundation or embellishment of religious houses. Much of the nation’s wealth was locked into these complexes through elaborate rebuilding, gifts of precious objects and flourishing libraries of rare books. Then in just four years all of the eight hundred plus houses were closed and ten thousand people dispersed, with the monastic fortune liquidated and passed to the crown. Today we are left with echoes of a time dominated by an enclosed elite, their homes repurposed or derelict or obliterated. Some of these foundations still thrive as churches, schools, homes or tourist attractions. Others have left little physical trace, the casual viewer ignorant of their existence.” This “is not an account of why the monasteries closed or what happened to the people displaced. Instead it focuses on the monastic buildings and their numerous fates and brings life to their stories.”

Henry VIII failed to obtain an annulment for one of his many marriages from Pope Clement VIII in the Catholic Church in the Papal States in Rome. These Papal States were a geo-political entity ruled by the Pope as their monarch across around a third of modern-day Italy that remained nearly unchanged in its borders between around 757-1776. They began to border with Germany that renamed itself as the Holy Roman Empire in 982 after it captured some of Italy, though it did not capture “Rome” while still appropriating this famous place in its name. Starting in the Middle Ages, England and Scotland became members of the Catholic Church. England began to pay feudal taxes in 1213 and allowed the Pope to select England’s top cleric, or the Bishop of Canterbury. This payment-scheme remained intact until Henry VIII opted to form the Church of England with himself as its head, and the Bishop of Canterbury as the theological leader that was nominated by the king or queen. Britain remained in limbo between the Papal States and the Church of England until the break was finalized in 1570. The Monasteries began to be dissolved in around 1536, as they were repurposed into some of the monarchy’s houses, or into English churches, or the like, as the blurb for this book explains. What precisely happened to these monasteries is historically very significant because of the legends they are associated with. For example, back in continental Europe there are several surviving still-operating monasteries that were claimed to have been burial places of British monarchs, though when corpses were dug up, they proved to be from the wrong centuries. Forged relics were placed in monasteries in England as elsewhere to attract pilgrimages to these monasteries from European tourists. Thus, the evidence about what has survived in the archival record from these buildings and what this physical evidence indicates is very important in separating truth from fiction in British history.

The “Introduction” explains that these monasteries had consumed an enormous portion of British wealth when they were operating, and so 100 monasteries had closed in the fifteenth century, and the Pope permitted another 30 to be closed due to a lack of funds in the 1520s. However, 1,000 institutions remained at the time of dissolution, and the 1535 survey reported that there were “vast revenues” coming into the “major abbeys” pre-dissolution, but profits from the sale of these monasteries were low, while the cost of paying pensions to the 18,000 displaced monastic residents was high. Any profit that could have been gained was also nullified by the destruction of many components of these buildings, including “the valuable roof lead and bells”, so that only 100 of these remain “extant or part-extant” (7). One possibility is that there were far fewer of these monasteries than was reported, or that accounting fraud was involved in their operation that included funds going to places and employees that were pseudonymous or non-existent. These types of questions regarding general existence or verity of the historical narrative is countered across this book in side-by-side matching images of churches such as the Bath Abbey in 1608 in a drawing, and a confirming through renovated image of it in modern-times (27). Some of these early drawings have been necessary for restoration projects or to keep buildings in a similar architectural appearance that they had in ages past, as demonstrated by the drawing and modern photograph of Newstead starting in 1720. The drawing of Saint Osyth Abbey in Essex after it was turned into a “stately home”, after its façade had been part of the “Abbot Vyntoner’s lavish building of 1517” (53). Modern mansions and building architecture was clearly influenced by this tendency to use these grand churches as mansions. I visited Roman ruins when I was finishing my BA, and I recall being more inspired by the remains of ancient broken down buildings than by intact, renovated buildings in this ancient city; so drawings of the ruins of a monastery that were incorporated into a garden at the Roche Abbey in the 1770s are uniquely appealing (100). Modern architects should try incorporating fake realistic-looking monastic ruins into mansions modern gardens, and this would be a lot more entertaining that standard geometric modernist designs. I only wish there were more ruins in this book, but there are only a few, including a “Resistance survey” of the site of Thornton Abbey that includes only a few rocks and indentations that suggest what stood in this place (121). On the bright side, the gradual deterioration of the Hailes Abbey into rocks was halted when Sir James Fowler turned its remnants into a museum (129).

If Verstegan had been born a century earlier and spent his life scribbling and retracing Catholic propaganda in one of these monasteries on a clerical salary, he would never have needed to set out on this publishing adventure, as he was forced to ghostwrite and ghost-publish to make enough to live on. It must have been incredible to live in quiet country settings on a lifetime salary in one of these monasteries. Perhaps reading about such retreats is the reason I set up my tiny house in a remote place in Texas, and have attempted to give myself enough years to achieve some scholarly work before rejoining the capitalist publishing or academic struggle. Overall, if this book is making me wistful, it is likely to impact the emotions of most history-sensitive readers. It is a great addition to most libraries, including small ones, as the public will be delighted to take a remote trip to these beautiful antique places, and to dream about this strange mix of extreme architectural luxury, in isolated rural and monastic settings.

Oxymoronic Tour of London: Crosses Are Not “Anglo-Saxon”

Duncan A. Smith, Gilded City: Tour Medieval and Renaissance London (London: Unicorn Publishing, July 2022). £25: Hardcover. 156pp. Over 80 photographs, maps, and guides of 9 walking-tours. ISBN: 978-1-914414-84-8.


“Throughout London’s two-thousand-year history, architecture has expressed the identity of the city’s diverse communities. From Franciscan friars to merchant bankers, royal dynasties to grocers and tailors, the ideals and wealth of these groups have been reflected in magnificent buildings and public spaces.” It discusses “how the powers these buildings and spaces represent have shaped the capital. As well as exploring famous landmarks, smaller-scale civic gems are revealed.”

I have been studying British literature closely since high school AP English, and yet I have never visited Britain, not even on a layover, and I have traveled a good deal. So this is my chance to go on a free tour of this city. The first thing that drew my attention is the “Gilded City Tours Overview Map” that features most of the locations that are frequently referred to in Renaissance texts, including Middle Temple Hall, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Tower of London (5-6). I have seen illustrations of these places separately, but it is great to have this clear and precisely labeled map to gauge the distances between them as well as their relative size and the grounds that stretch between them.

“Chapter 1’s” opening sentences break my trance as they repeat the legendary narrative where Romans, “Saxons”, “Vikings” and “Normans” in turn conquered Britain (8). While the Roman invasion or settlement is documented in archival records of the forts they built. As I learned while doing the research for Restitution, the term “Saxons” refers to Germans, “Vikings” is a pejorative for Scandinavians, and the term “Normans” suggests a few Scandinavian people managed to win the French county of Normandy, and so “Northmen” could be accused of the “Norman Conquest” in 1066 instead of the French (who made up most of the recorded invaders, or sponsors of the invasion). I have also learned that there is insufficient evidence to substantiate any migration of Germans into the British Isles before the 9th century, or after most of the claimed “Saxon” and “Viking” incursions. Myths about these pagan invaders appear to have been designed and reinforced with tourism in mind, or they would not be mentioned in such opening sentences, when the rest of the book cannot include any architecture that survives from pre-“Norman Conquest” times. Another absurdity is that the “Celtic kingdoms” ruled Britain before “the Romans arrived” (9). My own analysis indicates that the Celtic languages branch is likely to have originated in what is modern-day France and was the Kingdom of Brittania some time before 1066; this region still uses the Celtic Breton language, which they must have brought with them when they migrated to Britain; but DNA indicates that most and the earliest migrants into Britain arrived after around 900 from Netherlands and Germany, so these Celtic settlers would have come later and in smaller numbers. Smith further claims that these “Celts” arrived in “Britain after the last ice age”; this age ended 11,700 years ago, but access to Britain was cut off by the flooding of the landmass that connected it to continental Europe by around 6200 BC; so Smith is suggesting a group of humans had developed the advanced Celtic language before 6200 BC; in contrast, the first known-of language or the Sumerian was developed only in 3100 BC; so these Celts would have had to be the earliest literate people on the planet and then they had to have retained and developed their Celtic language while in isolation from Europe until at least 4000 BC when the first shaky papyrus boats were built, or probably until around 1000 AD when shipping between countries became a relatively common endeavor. And to arrive at this “Celtic” hypothesis she relies on the linguistic possibility that London is derived from the Celtic term Plowonida (wide flowing river); Verstegan discusses many absurd derivations for “London” that were presented prior to 1605 in Restitution, and this is one of the more absurd possibilities that he does not even mention. There is a useful bit of information on the map of London at 200 AD, with an “expanded forum and basilica” that had been constructed; however, this is a misleading or fictional diagram as the note explains that the “Roman fort was dismantled” soon after its construction, and that the Medieval gates are merely believed to have been based on the Roman design (11-2). This leaves the possibility that Romans had built forts in other parts of Britain more so than in London, but Britons claimed that London had been first a Roman city to give it more grandeur. Another example of this appropriation of a Roman past without actual evidence, is a “Victorian copy of a statue of Emperor Trajan” next to the “remaining sections of the Roman wall that encircled Londinium” (13). It remains unclear if these walls have ever been carbon dated or otherwise checked to verify if they might also be replicas. Another suspicious element is that the Roman Temple of Mithras was only “uncovered in 1954”, as “magnificent sculptures” were found right in the middle of London by the Custom House (15-6). Surely this location had been built and re-built hundreds of times since Roman times, so if there were ancient statues there, somebody would have dug these treasures up before it became easy to replicate Roman statues of Emperors after Victorian times. And the All Hallows Barking church was fictitiously claimed to have been founded in 675 AD to increase visitor-numbers and donations; as Smith comments “the current church building and tower are largely a 20th-century restoration” that included reproducing an “Anglo-Saxon arch”; the latter is problematic because “Anglo-Saxons” are distinguished in the histories for their paganism, as after they became Christian they tend to be referred to as “English”, “Britons” and the like; meanwhile, arches were used in early Christian church architecture, so combining “Anglo-Saxon” with “arch” is a contradiction. And Smith goes on to add that there are “two beautiful Anglo-Saxon crosses” in the “crypt museum” (17); again, the “Anglo-Saxons” were pagan or atheist, while “crosses” are Christian, so from what period and from what location are these supposed to be and are they also 20th century forgeries?

I clearly cannot continue reading this book in the middle of my BRRAM series translations, as I cannot read a single phrase without contradicting it. To anybody who is familiar with this traditional version of British history, it should read as pretty typical and uneventful, but from my perspective Smith appears to be leaning into these fictions more so than most average puffing histories of Britain. The simplicity of the linguistic style in this book might be the cause of my distress, as she is simplifying or mixing up terms as she takes readers on a casual tour of the city, instead of checking or finding sources to support the narrative she is mis-recalling from memory. If you are a tourist who just wants a book with accurate maps and illustrations of the major sites to visit while in London, this should be a helpful and beautiful resource; but to a researcher of the truth about the history of this city, this is a very troubling and distressing book.


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