It takes me a while to settle down after travelling. And I have been reading four books at the same time which adds to my distraction – Norstedt’s Swedish history 600-1350, David Kynaston’s City of London, David Kitchen’s “The political economy of Germany 1895-1914” and Kelly’s Jerome.
In the last few days, I’ve got a grip on myself and have finished the volume on Swedish history.
I read about Swedish history early on in my stay in Sweden but this was a long time ago now and I want to refresh my knowledge now that my grasp of the Swedish language and other things Swedish is so much better. Reading the first volume of the history series was a very satisfactory experience allowing me to view what I’d learnt about Uppsala, not least the mounds and the stories about St Erik, in a broader context.
My reading plans are always over-ambitious. It feels as if one ought to be able to relax a bit and enjoy life when coming up to 76. And while I do enjoy life, I also live with a nagging feeling of discontent because I don’t always or even often fulfil my plan. I am going to try to use time more efficiently by organising it better – a couple of days a week dedicated to serious projects (those focusing on the state of the world), a couple of days on more escapist pursuits (permissible when one is over 70, a silver bonus…), and a couple of days for commercial activity and household work and other banalities.
Not as a rigid iron law but as a general guide for the direction of travel to make better use of time by concentrating activities.
At the moment, in the run up for Hieronymus day (aka Jerome, the patron saint of translators), I’m spending time sorting my Hieronymus pictures (I have collected about 90 reproductions of art work). I was originally thinking of putting them up in a corner of my flat. However, as I have pictures of Dorset churches from my Dorset church architecture project, introducing Jerome would give visitors the impression that they were entering the home of a devout Christian, which would sit very uneasily with my self-image. I’m also not at all keen on the numerous pictures of Jerome (Hieronymus) as a penitent or hermit in the desert. I find hermits unappealing and pathological – the self-torture and austere existence. I could live with the pictures of Jerome in his study in his (inaccurate) Cardinal’s kit beavering away with translation but not the pics where he is half-naked or equipped with a grubby off-white cloak with stone at the ready to beat his sinful breast.
And the more you read about a subject the more complicated it gets. I read that Jerome’s library was destroyed by the Goths. If I’ve understood the text correctly that was at Stridon, Jerome’s birthplace (the location is disputed but it was in Italy at the time, on the border of the then Dalmatia, possibly in present-day Bosnia). But Jerome is supposed to have broken with his parents and spent most of his time elsewhere in Antioch, Constantinople and above all Rome. And he is also supposed to have had his library with him in his cave in the Syrian wilderness. Did he move his library around all the time like an early version of David Kendall? Or did he leave his classics behind in Stridon and have the new collection of Christian literature with him. Perhaps further reading will throw more light on this.
He wrote so much that we know quite a lot about him, even his thoughts about the clumsiness of direct translation and the need for paraphrases (complicated when the original text is supposed to be the word of God; my Swedish customers don’t go this far). But the patches that are dark are very dark as we are after all reading about events more about 1,700 years ago.
And as well as reading about him, it’s fascinating to study the development of paintings of him, his traditional attributes and the historical distortions (his supposed status as cardinal and pics of him, hob-nobbing with the Virgin Mary, for example).
Not to mention how the simple statement that he greatly improved the quality of the bible translation by going back to Hebrew rather than translating the OT from Greek becomes complicated when you start to look at what has been accepted as being part of the bible at different times and how he treated these various parts.
The project easily becomes huge and I want to continue it but I need to set a ceiling on the amount of time I devote to it (as I do for my Dorset church architecture project).