Sunday, 22 June 2008

Layers upon Layers

Recently back for Portugal were we had a great time visiting some of the most historical sites of its history including the founding city in the north Guimares (a name derived from a Germanic based word meaning the "the rich ones" because that is where all the wealthy land owners lived - which is what made it very attractive to the Spanish. We stayed in a beautiful 12th century monastery that was converted by the government (called a Passada). It was there in the 12th century that the warlord Don Alfsono Henriques defeated his own mother in the Batalha de S.Mamede and started the foundation of Portugal. In Coimbra (the Oxford of Portugal) we say the great Library of Joao V as well as the fascist like statues the dictator Salazar has erected at the University of Coimbra. We also toured one of the largest Roman sites - Conimbriga (a Roman summer resort with one of the largest bath houses in the area). Going further back we went to the Celtic site of Britarieos which was excavated in the 19th century and has some of the most extensive pre-Roman Celtic remains including many foundations of Celtic round houses. The site also contains Roman and Medieval remains (perched a high on a hill it became a place for hermits in the 10th century (I go down to the moors, collect me berries, chastises myself - sorry lapsed in Monty Python...). Also returned to Lisbon (where we had been before) and took a trip back to Belem - to have their speciality Pastleis de Belem and a dinner in the Barrio Alto of Bacchaleu (Salt Fish). In Lisbon, we stayed in a hotel right above the famous coffee house - The Braseliera - where the famous 20th century poet Pessoa used to sit and write (and where after a drinking bout he apparently died). There is nothing like a bica in the morning.

So I have fallen in love with the country and the language which I am learning - there is so much great Portuguese literature and very little in translation and the other interesting thing I find is the amount of literature on the Knights Templar who found refuge in Portugal towards their end - and when we return I want to go to Tomar - one of their major strongholds. So in the coming months I hope to dig into this wealth of literature and of course, eventually, read Lord of the Rings in Portuguese.

On another front I am getting increasingly interested in this concept of "The Great Chain of Reading" which Nagly put forth in the recent book on Tolkien and the Middle Ages. I am interested in studying authors who did what Tolkien did in terms of developing an "original" piece of connected literature out of a series of layered stories, annuals, chronologies,etc - I am currently re-reading Roger Loomis's volume on Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages and seeing the many layers of stories that make up what eventually became the stories of King Arthur and the Round Table has "fixed" in Malory and Tennyson - another interesting one that I picked up while reading the excellent book Lord of the Rings and the Western Narrative Tradition is the Hellenistic poem The Argonautika by Appollinious of Rhodes who was himself a librarian and had access to many sources of books on the gods and heroes that make up the story of Jason and Medea (and what of Homer and the layers we can find in that - could the Cretan lies of Odysseus in the later books of the Odyssey be an earlier layer of the story? All very much worth investigating.

Of course, life is busy and my partner and I have of late been doing marathon Lord of the Rings Online games (I'm a level 17 elf - he a level 20 hobbit) - eats up time but its fun - anyone interested in joining a fellowship quest into the great barrow of Ongenthow (thought that was Beowulf's father??).

Will be at the UK Tolkien conference next week - and will report on next week.

1 comment:

Jason Fisher said...

[...] dinner in the Barrio Alto of Bacchaleu (Salt Fish) [...]

Your entire trip sounds wonderful. This particular bit jumped out at me because I know the equivalent word in Italian: baccalà. I had it on my trip to Tuscany in 2005. It's fun to see a word and to immediately recognize its cognates, isn't it?

[...] "The Great Chain of Reading" which Nagly put forth [...]

Just to point out a minor typo: it's Nagy. :)

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