Notebook

Ruins at Delphi

Searching for Castalia

The sacred springs of mythology are considered the source of inspiration for the finest poets – both ancient and modern. But like poetry itself, they remain elusive.

babar and celeste

The lasting historical appeal of the elephant

Pachyderms have proved remarkably versatile to European history – used, among other things, as symbols of conquering and colonisation, the lives of these creatures, and the way they have been treated, can stand as metaphor for the Continent’s own relationship to the rest of the world.

putin face

Putin’s Poison Pill

The Russian president’s ambition to restore his country’s Soviet-era influence is solely in his own interest – at the expense of the nation’s long-term security and prosperity.

Villa Aurora

Weimar on the West Coast

Many German literary exiles flourished briefly in post-war Los Angeles ­– and their legacy lives on in a variety of ways.

400 coups

The intoxicating humanism of Truffaut’s Les 400 Coups

Truffaut’s interest in people – their emotional lives, their relationships with one another – continues to fascinate. His films are about childhood, adolescence, love, loss, desire, betrayal, guilt, trust and solitude, not parallel universes and super-heroes.

soviet russia ukraine polandwar

The 1920 Battle for Ukraine — a warning from the past

Having practically saved Europe from a communist takeover, Poland’s head of state Joseph Pilsudski’s insistence a century ago on a strong, independent Ukraine, protected by the Western democracies from Russian intimidation and threats, resonates powerfully today.

george orwell

Orwell in all weathers

The weather was more than just a backdrop to Orwell’s narratives – it shaped his life and art in profound and unexpected ways.

l'assommoir translation

The things gained in translation

Untangling abstract words from one language to another is a subjective task – and translations often reveal as much about their translator as their original text

Denethor settles down to eat some delicious cherry tomatoes as his son rides into battle. Credit: AF archive / Alamy Stock Photo

In defence of Denethor

For all his qualities as a filmmaker, Peter Jackson’s representation of Denethor shows how he is unable to fuse the genius of Tolkien and the rich sensibility he brought to bear in what he termed ‘the cauldron of story’ – the common weal of imagination that produced the great sagas, Old English epics and folklore – into his own art.

Death in the Sickroom by Edvard Much

On the medicalisation of the mind

Modern attempts to categorise phenomena as varied as mental illness should be reevaluated. Wittgenstein’s family resemblance concept points to the folly of labelling any number of behaviours under one ever-expanding banner.

father Christmas beard roman

On beards

Santa Claus is famous for his; today’s hipsters accessorise them – but the fashion for facial hair can be traced all the way back to Ancient Rome.

italian schoolchildren

Learning in Italy

The patrician nature of Italian education takes students on a one-way journey of factual regurgitation – but sometimes cracks in the system let a little light in.

ostracism athens

On ostracism

In Ancient Athens, ostracism, a mechanism for exiling citizens written into its laws, was thought to play a pivotal role in preserving the health of the city-state. But how did it play out in practice?

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