Tarragona’s Amphitheater

Grove Koger

Tarragona’s Roman amphitheater is remarkable not only for its position overlooking the blue waters of the Balearic Sea but also for the fact that much of it was carved in situ out of the existing bedrock. The structure is 427 feet by 335 feet in size, and, at the time of its completion in the early second century CE, when the city was known as Tárraco, could accommodate an audience of some 12,000. In its early years, the amphitheater was the scene of the usual array of cruel Roman spectacles, and was renovated during the reign of Roman Emperor Heliogabalus (204-222).

Heliogabalus made quite a name for himself—briefly. According to historian Edward Gibbon, he “abandoned himself to the grossest pleasures and ungoverned fury” and was assassinated at the age of 18. So black was his reputation that he was then subjected to damnatio memoriae—the erasure of all references to his existence from the historical record. (The fact that such a practice actually had a recognized name tells us a lot about the time.) Nevertheless, archaeologists have discovered traces of his memory in the inscription celebrating the amphitheater’s renovation. It seems that they found key letters on scattered fragments of marble, allowing them to piece together what would have been a reference to the hated emperor.

Tarragona’s mayor asked modernista architect Josep Maria Jujol to undertake the amphitheater’s restoration in the mid-1920s, but nothing came of the project, and it would be the middle of the century before any serious work was done. Decades later, in 2000, the amphitheater was designated as one component of a UNESCO World Heritage Site—the Archaeological Ensemble of Tárraco.

When Maggie and I are in Tarragona, we stay in a small, family-run hotel a short bus ride up the coast from the amphitheater. After an afternoon of swimming on Savinosa Beach and a light dinner at a chiringuito (beach bar) called Pepe’s & Lugano Restaurant and Chill-out (that’s transcribed correctly, by the way), we can enjoy the view above from our hotel balcony.


Karl Baedeker & His Legacy

Grove Koger

The publishing firm of Baedeker was established in Bielefeld, Germany, in the early eighteenth century by Dietrich Baedeker, but toward the end of that century the company moved to Essen. Dietrich’s descendant Karl (1801-1859) published the company’s first guidebook—to the city of Koblenz—in 1829, just two years after the establishment of the first passenger steamboat service on the Rhine River between that city and Mainz. Another, more popular volume extending the coverage to the longer stretch between Mainz and Cologne followed in 1832. Once the prerogative of the privileged few, travel was growing increasingly accessible to the middle class.

Upon Karl’s death, his son Ernst took over the firm, and in 1861 Baedeker published its first guide (to the Rhine, once again) in English. Subsequently the company moved to Leipzig and expanded its line, adding more volumes in English and French as well as German (including a guide to London). These “Handbooks for Travellers,” as they were known, were painstakingly detailed, telling middle class travelers everything they might wish to know about where to stay, where to eat, where to call for mail, where to worship, and what sights to see. They were noteworthy as well for their attractive and maps and plans, created by the partner company of Wagner and Debes.

A possibly apocryphal story in an article from the blog rarebookreview illustrates the extent to which the guidebooks had established themselves in the public (and royal) consciousness, at least in Germany. It seems that during the 1880s, Kaiser Wilhelm would routinely excuse himself from meetings in his palace to watch the changing of the guard from a window. “Yes,” he’s said to have remarked, “it’s a terrible bore but Baedeker is on record as saying that I do this every day and I mustn’t disappoint his readers.”

Whatever their strengths, however, the early Baedekers were often astonishingly, breathtakingly hard on the countries they described. The 1914 volume for Spain, for instance, described the country as “a bleak and often arid land, with few traces of picturesqueness.” Given observations like that, a prospective traveler might well have decided to stay home.

By the beginning of World War I, Baedeker had extended its coverage beyond the shores of Europe to India, the Middle East and North America. It had 78 titles in print in German, French, and English, almost all bound uniformly in red, and its name had become synonymous with guidebooks. Not surprisingly, the firm emerged from the war in a weakened position, and during the next war its offices were destroyed during an Allied bombing raid. Yet Baedeker struggled on.

Today, the Baedeker guidebooks are published by MairDumont, but they no longer provide the extraordinary level of detail that once made them remarkable. There are new competitors as well, including Fodor’s, Dorling Kindersley, Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, and so on.

Illustrated are volumes from our collection are a guide to the Rhine, to Paris, and to the chief routes and coasts of the Mediterranean region. The last, by way, is the 1911 English edition,  and, according to the piece in rarebookreview, is the “only title in English to cover Constantinople [as Istanbul was then known] and North Africa.” The map of Marseille is taken from a 1914 guidebook.


If you’d like to know more, I recommend “Baedeker’s Universe” by Edward Mendelson in the Yale Review 74 (Spring 1985), pages 386-403, or at http://www.columbia.edu/~em36/baedeker.html.

Lawrence & Frieda in Italy

Grove Koger

As I expand and update When the Going Was Good, I’m posting revised entries from the first edition. Today’s deals with the first travel book by D(avid) H(erbert) Lawrence, who was born September 11, 1885.


Twilight in Italy (London: Duckworth, 1916)

Accompanied by Frieda Weekley, the wife of one of his professors, Lawrence visited northern Italy in 1912 and 1913. It was to be the first of many sojourns in the country, but this experience in particular was colored by his passion and by his growing sense of his own talent, as he was finishing his first important novel, Sons and Lovers. The visit was also the prelude to what would become a drawn-out search for a clime that would alleviate his physical distress—he was to die of tuberculosis in 1930—and satisfy his longings for a vital and harmonious society.

Twilight in Italy is based on articles Lawrence published about his first Italian experiences, and at its heart are seven essays grouped under the rubric “On the Lago di Garda.” The young author and his mistress had stayed for the most part in Gargnano on the western shore of the lake, moving higher up the mountainside in the spring. Lawrence brings the little community—its imperiled lemon gardens, its churches, its theatre—to life in vivid language. His sense of place is celebrated, but here place is expressed largely through Gargnano’s inhabitants, poised as they are between an agrarian world now in its twilight and an industrialized future bright with promise.

But Lawrence disbelieved that promise. As Twilight in Italy closes, he sits sipping Campari in a square in Milan, where despite the vivacity of the passing scene, “always there was the same purpose stinking in it all, the mechanizing, the perfect mechanizing of human life.


The text published in the “Cambridge Edition of the Letters and Works of D.H Lawrence” as Twilight in Italy and Other Essays (Cambridge and New York, 1994) is edited and introduced by Paul Eggert; it incorporates additional essays by Lawrence on Germany, Italy and the Tyrol, and is supplemented by extensive material of interest mainly to scholars. Most readers will prefer the shortened Penguin version (London and New York, 1997) published under the same title, which takes its text from the Cambridge edition and adds an introduction and notes by Stafania Michelucci. Lawrence’s three Italian travel books are collected in D.H. Lawrence and Italy (New York: Penguin, 1972) with an introduction by novelist Anthony Burgess.


The Penguin edition pictured at the top of the post reproduces a detail from Washing in the Sun by Italian divisionist painter Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo (1868-1907). The photograph of Lawrence was taken by Lady Ottoline Morrell (1873-1938) and dates from November 1915.

At Sea with Horatio Hornblower

Grove Koger

Here’s a “Sea Fever” entry dealing with an early favorite of mine, C.S. Forester.


Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (1950); Lieutenant Hornblower (1952); Hornblower and the “Hotspur” (1962); Hornblower and the Crisis (Hornblower during the Crisis) (1967); Hornblower and the “Atropos” (1953); The Happy Return (Beat to Quarters) (1937); A Ship of the Line (Ship of the Line) (1938); Flying Colours (1938); The Commodore (Commodore Hornblower) (1945); Lord Hornblower (1946); Hornblower in the West Indies (Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies) (1958)

The writer we know as C.S. Forester entered the world in Cairo, Egypt, on August 27, 1899, as Cecil Louis Troughton Smith. He did his best to enlist during World War I, only to discover that he had a serious heart condition and was unfit for service. And although he studied medicine for a time in London, he discovered that he really didn’t care enough about the subject to bother studying. Instead, he turned to writing humorous sketches—a modest beginning to a career that eventually made him one of the most popular novelists of his time.

The young man’s first attempts at writing fiction were abject failures, but eventually a historical novel about Napoleon was accepted and published under the name C.S. Forester in 1924. Other novels, as well as historical studies and travel books, followed, along with The African Queen (1934), the writer’s first real claim to fame.

It was three years later that Forester wrote about the experiences of a young captain of the Royal Navy, Horatio Hornblower, during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). Published as The Happy Return in the U.K. and Beat to Quarters in the U.S., the novel was my first taste of Hornblower, but far from the last. Forester followed with further Hornblower adventures, beginning with A Ship of the Line in 1938 and concluding with the unfinished Hornblower and the Crisis in 1967. There were 11 novels in all, five short stories, and an outline for another story.

Ideally, the Hornblower novels should be read in order of their internal chronology. In that case, you meet the man as a lowly midshipman and conclude your acquaintance with him after he becomes a rear admiral. (You’ll see the titles arranged that way at the top of the post.)

I’ve described Kenneth Dodson’s Away All Boats (see my post of 10/11/18) as a naval epic, and I was tempted to do the same with Herman Wouk’s Caine Mutiny (5/26/19). But my choice of terms was imprecise. Harmon and Holman’s Handbook to Literature speaks of an epic as “a long narrative poem in elevated style presenting characters of high position in adventures forming an organic whole through their relation to a central heroic figure, and through their development of episodes important to the history of a nation or race.”

I think we can put aside the requirement that an epic be a poem, although poetry does seem better suited than prose to the presentation of “characters of high position.” But whatever else they might be, Dodson and Wouk’s novels are about characters who are distinctly ordinary, not “high” or particularly heroic. To a great extent, that’s their authors’ point. The same is true of Hornblower himself, who is humble of birth, prone to seasickness (of all things), introverted and troubled by self-doubt, and makes mistakes. He’s no epic hero; instead, he succeeds thanks to his skill, his sense of duty, and his good luck.

But in its wide-ranging depiction of the momentous struggle at sea against Napoleon, the Hornblower cycle certainly deals with episodes dramatically important to the history of England, the English people, and the English people’s self-image. In the hands of a skillful, hard-working, lucky novelist, that’s been enough to satisfy generations of intelligent readers. Ernest Hemingway’s recommendation of Forester to “everyone literate” he knew remains as apt as ever.

If you’d like to know more about Forester, see his Long before Forty (Michael Joseph, 1967); and Sanford Sternlicht, C.S. Forester and the Hornblower Saga (rev. ed. Syracuse UP, 1999). For information about his most famous creation, see his own Hornblower Companion (Michael Joseph, 1964); and C. Northcote Parkinson, The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower (Michael Joseph, 1971), whose cover is reproduced just above.

News from Nowhere

Grove Koger

Those of us fascinated by imaginary places are surely akin to “islomanes”—individuals who, in Lawrence Durrell’s classic formulation in Reflections on a Marine Venus, “find islands somehow irresistible.” They “are the direct descendants of the Atlanteans,” Durrell continues, “and it is towards the lost Atlantis that their subconscious yearns throughout their island life.” Which leads us quite naturally to …

Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi, The Dictionary of Imaginary Places. Newly updated and expanded. New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 2000.

On a small enough island, you can enjoy the fantasy that you might well be the master of all you survey. But in the case of an imaginary one, you are the master. You share your kingdom with a writer and a few of his or her characters, of course, but if they behave tediously, they run the risk of being put back on the bookshelf.

In honor of this fascinating phenomenon, Manguell and Guadalupi published the first edition of their Dictionary in 1980 and new edition in 2000. It’s more than 750 pages in length—a testament to the hold that the concept’s possibilities have exercised on the minds of writers for millennia.

The earliest place I find discussed in the book is—no surprise—Plato’s perennially intriguing invention, which the famous philosopher described in the 4th century BCE. We read that Atlantis was “a vast island-continent submerged under the waters of the Atlantic towards the year 9560 BC; parts of it are still inhabited and can be visited.” The entry runs to three pages, thanks in part to a diagram of the island continent’s obsessively circular capital, and mentions that one Professor Maracot discovered Atlantis’s remains underwater in 1926, and that, what’s more, a party of Frenchmen happened upon other remains of Atlantis in 1897 in—the Sahara! A bibliography at the end of the entry helpfully identifies the specific dialogues in which Plato described his legendary concept, as well as two other works: L’Atlantide by Pierre Benoit, and The Maracot Deep by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (I’ll be writing about both, along with Atlantis itself, down the line.)

Here also are Norman Douglas’s Nepenthe (from South Wind), Jan Morris’s Hav (from Last Letters from Hav and Hav of the Myrmidons), Anthony Hope’s Ruritania, etc., etc.

In describing their method, Manguel and Guadalupi write that “we would take for granted that fiction was fact, and treat the chosen texts as seriously as one treats the reports of an explorer or chronicler, using only the information provided in the original source, with no ‘inventions’ on our part.”

But why some entries and not others? “We can present no convincing excuse,” explain the two. “Ultimately we admit to having chosen certain places simply because they aroused in us that indescribable thrill that is the true achievement of fiction, places without which the world would be so much poorer.”


According to information I find online, Alberto Manguel grew up in Buenos Aires, where he’s said to have met the great (but nearly blind) Jorge Luis Borges and become one of several people who read aloud to him regularly. Later in life, runs the account, he made the acquaintance of Gianni Guadalupi, who’s credited with books such as The Discovery of the Nile and Latitude Zero: Tales of the Equator. So far as I can determine, neither man is imaginary.


News from Nowhere, by the way, is the title of a socialist fantasy by noted English designer and writer William Morris (1834-1896). A number of his inventions show up in the Dictionary, but not this one, as it’s set in the future—an admittedly imaginary realm that nevertheless lies far beyond our authors’ otherwise wide-ranging explorations.

Seeing Meštrović in the Round

Grove Koger

Maggie and I enjoyed several days in Split in 2015 (see my 7/17/19 post), but our most rewarding experience was a visit to the Ivan Meštrović Gallery in the suburban neighborhood of Meje.

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Meštrović’s life was a convoluted one. He was born in what was then the autonomous Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia, which itself was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When he was 13, he was apprenticed to a stonemason in Split, and went on to study at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. Later years found him in Paris (where his work won the praise of Auguste Rodin, no less), Rome, Cannes and London.

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The end of World War I brought major political changes to Central Europe and the Balkans, and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (from 1929 the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) was carved out of what had been the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Meštrović settled in the new kingdom’s capital of Zagreb, where he directed the city’s Art Institute, in 1922, and built a summer home and studio in Split in the 1930s. By then he was world-famous, but with the approach of World War II, his outspoken political views made him suspect and he was briefly imprisoned.

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Meštrović managed to make his way to Italy and then Switzerland, but with the establishment of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia after the war, he refused to return. He settled instead in the United States, where he became a professor at Syracuse University. Despite his antipathy to Josip Tito’s atheistic regime, the deeply religious sculptor donated his residence in Split to Yugoslavia in 1952. And despite his earlier stance, he did revisit his homeland—once—but did not remain.

The Ivan Meštrović Gallery is housed in the neoclassic summer residence that the sculptor had built, and is a showcase for a number of his monumental works, pieces that are at once sensual, spiritual and deeply humanistic.

Granville Bantock Visits the Hebrides

Grove Koger

This review of works by Granville Bantock, who was born August 7, 1868, appeared originally in the May/June issue of Disc Respect, published by Boise’s Record Exchange.


Granville Bantock: Hebridean Symphony, Celtic Symphony, The Witch of Atlas, The Sea Reivers. Vernon Handley, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Like several other British composers, Granville Bantock (1868-1946) was fascinated by the Celtic world, specifically the Hebrides, the tempest-tossed islands lying off the western coast of Scotland. He was once celebrated as a major force in British music, but has passed into obscurity instead. His love of the massive and the extravagant came to count against him, but now the time for his rediscovery has arrived with a new CD from Hyperion.

The big selection here is the Hebridean Symphony of 1913, first performed in 1916 in Glasgow. It’s a work in nine sections, played in one 35-mninute movement. Like most of Bantock’s Hebridean-inspired works, it’s based on folk songs gathered by one Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser early in the twentieth century. The symphony follows a vaguely programmatic course, involving “marauding ships,” “clansmen gathering,” and “sea mist and ancient legend.” (I’m leaning here on Hyperion’s detailed notes.) After listening to the Hebridean Symphony the first time, I realized that the hair had been standing up on my arms the entire time.

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The rousing Sea Reivers (subtitled Hebridean Sea Poem No. 2) seems to have been planned as a section of the Hebridean Symphony. And what a fine encore it would make for some adventuresome orchestra in place of the slightly tarnished goods usually trotted out for such occasions!

The earliest work on this CD, The Witch of Atlas (Tone Poem No 5) was inspired by a long work by Percy Bysshe Shelley and dates from 1902. It sounds like a cross between The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and a sweepingly romantic, terribly British movie score. Shelley’s poem describes the witch in question as being so striking that “her beauty made / The bright world dim, and everything beside / Seemed like the fleeting image of a shade.” The appeal to someone of Bantock’s temperament is obvious.

Bantock completed his Celtic Symphony when he was 72, scoring it for string orchestra and six (!) harps. Like the earlier symphony, it’s played in one continuous movement (at just under 20 minutes here), and like its longer counterpart, incorporates Hebridean folk songs. Its main theme bursts forth periodically with a throbbing, passionate intensity, and only comes to rest, in dialogue with the harps, in the final section, Largamente maestoso.


You can hear a different, but nearly as good performance of the Celtic Symphony at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oy_hQGQcISM.

The striking image on the CD’s notes is a detail from Morning after a Stormy Night by Johan Christian Clausen Dahl. The pencil drawing of Bantock is by an unknown artist and is reproduced from New York Public’s Digital Library.