Posts tagged ‘Project Gutenberg’

July 26, 2015

Ferdowsi – The Book of Kings

by Mikael

The Book of Kings, the Shahnameh, is an iconic epic of Persian culture, written by Ferdowsi (sometimes transcribed “Firdausi”) around the turn of the previous millennium (ca AD 977-1010). It purports to detail the lineage of Persian Kings all the way from the Mythological Age, through the Age of Heroes and into the Historical Age. It also brims with the usual stuff: Heroic deeds, battles, betrayals, evil nemeses, legendary duels, black magic etc. etc. The picture below is based on an AD1909 translation by James Atkinson Esquire (of the honourable East-India Company’s Bengal Medical Service) freely available at the Project Gutenberg, and thus the somewhat antiquated transcriptions of names from Farsi into English.

[Visualization as PDF]

A striking thing about the book is the detail of family relationships that is included, and the visualization is of the family tree type (a directed acyclic graph in math speak). Royal succession, which may skip a few generations or jump completely sideways on occasion, is highlighted in gold and annotated with the length of each reign as given by Firdausi. Westerners in particular will note that the last regent included is in fact Alexander “the Great” of Macedon, who we probably know well from history books and Greek culture. The Persian take on this character is somewhat different.

Enjoy an anecdote about Ferdowsi (and much more) over at Paul Sheridan’s: Anecdotes from Antiquity.

February 15, 2014

Alexander Pushkin’s – Marie – A Story of Russian Love

by Mikael

A very straightforward and elegant love story by Russia’s Father of Literature. The text is available from Project Gutenberg as usual, though with one of its several alternative titles. Here is the general plot together with a schematic of location vs. time and a highlighting of pivotal moments.

[Visualization as PDF]

The locations appear to be mostly on the river Volga, more or less close to the border of Kazakhstan. I cross-checked with the original text in Russian and searched Google Maps to find:

  • Belogorsk (Belogorskaya) Белогорская: Where Peter was stationed, should be 40 verst (possibly 40-60 Km) from Orenbourg but while there are plenty of matches for the name, there are none within the distance as far as Google Maps is concerned.
  • Khasan (Kazan) Казань: This is where Peter was imprisoned.
  • Orenbourg (Orenburg) Оренбурга: A major city where Peter spent some time after fleeing Belogorsk.
  • Simbirsk (Simbirsk) Симбирска: Peter’s home.
February 10, 2014

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s – The Idiot

by Mikael

The Idiot is a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky written in the 1860s. According to the translator’s introduction in my Penguin Classics copy, the author wanted to create a completely “pure” character. This became “Prince Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin”, who is better known by the pejorative epithet of the book’s title.

Myshkin’s adventures in upper middle class 19th century Russia is a whirlwind of social intrigue. He falls in love (but innocently so) with two different women, one of which has at least two other suitors simultaneously. On top of all this, there is a throng of family members and miscellaneous characters. To confuse matters, many of them tend to be referred to interchangeably by different Russian names, titles and nicknames that are probably unfamiliar to the non-Russian reader. The Uncyclopedia article describes this sarcastically.

Grabbing the text from Project Gutenberg, I’ve made two different graph representations. The left is a simple co-appearance graph that highlights a cluster of important and heavily interacting characters in the center: the closer they are and the thicker/darker the edge, the more they interact. The right is a simple schematic of family ties, romantic innuendo and some other relationships of importance.

[Visualization as PDF]

At the center of the plot is Nastasya whose three suitors are Rogojin, Ganya and the Prince. The latter is also in love with Aglaya. Several family members of Aglaya and Ganya get involved for various reasons and one of Rogojin’s compatriots, Lebdev, plays a role. The characters involved in the romantic double-triangles (or whatever it is) are all borderline mad. I’ll refrain from exposing the ending here.

The English spelling of the Russian names is taken from the translation by McDuff.

November 15, 2013

Nicolo Machiavelli’s – The Prince

by Mikael

The Prince, by the Italian Niccolò Machiavelli, is a renaissance era political treatise. It is notable for being one of the first works (in the west, after the “dark ages”) to promote political realism. The entire text is available on Project Gutenberg, although I found the Penguin Classic’s translation much more approachable.

What Machiavelli means by “a Prince” is what we would rather call “a King” or “a Tyrant” today, a sovereign who commands absolute power in his state. The book contains advice for how such people should act to acquire and stay in power. It is controversial in that it promotes many ambiguous or clearly unethical behaviours.

Machiavelli is very systematical and fond of making distinct categorizations. These are my notes interpreting some of the more amusing passages.

[Visualization as PDF]

Although the cynical part of me (which happens to be the larger part) notes that these ideas may well make much sense for your practical tyrant, I don’t suggest that they are “right” (whatever that may mean) or ethical. The way to read this is by trying to understand the circumstances people lived under in the past. Some of the tidbits are still relevant, such as the part on how to deal with sycophants. Most of them are not.