Thursday, February 13, 2014

Terre des Hommes by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Finally….the second five-stars reading of this year—thanks to Monsieur Saint Exupéry! Terre des Hommes is also known as Wind, Sand, and Stars (English translation), although I think the exact translation should have been ‘the earth or the land of mankind’. ‘Wind, sand, and stars’ makes it looks like a childish nature-philosophy book—almost like The Little Prince—but in fact Terre des Hommes is much more than that. This is a book which brings us back to our nature as human being. Living the routines makes us forget the true value of life itself. We tend to continue living because… well, because we are alive. But do you ever ponder, why are you living? For what purpose do we struggle to survive—apart from our instinct? Or, if you want to go deeper, why do we have the instinct to survive? We are going to die, sooner or later, aren’t we?

Terre des Hommes is Exupéry’s autobiographical book, or memoir is more suitable. In this book he tells us his experiences as a pioneer pilot for French airmail company: Aéropostale. In the days when aviator technology was far less sophisticated, and much more dangerous, only men with exceptional courage would have liked to flight an airplane, let alone the airmail carriers, because the risk was very high. Not only that the routes have not thoroughly mapped—it was often these pilots who did the first mapping—but the danger of being stranded on the Sahara; the risk of dying from thirsty, or of attack from the dessert rioters, were always facing them. But instead, Exupéry found an inspiring joy in his job.

It is in the tranquil solitary of the universe did he found the overwhelming peace whenever he was flying the airplane. The limited means of technology forced him to keep an intimate relationship with the sky, sun, moon, stars, sea, clouds, wind, and storm. But his real lesson came when his plane crashed on the Sahara, where Exupéry and his mechanic-navigator Prévot were stranded with almost no food and drink to survive. They were nearly died of thirst and had several mental delusions, before finally found and saved by a Bedouin. His near-death experience taught Exupéry of what must be the most important thing of being alive.

God created man as His image and bestowed him Life. Now, it is our duty to keep it sacred, because we live not for and by ourselves; we—the creation—are part of the universe. And so, our lives are valuable and meaningful. It is our duty to pass on our humanity to next generations. When Exupéry was nearly dying of thirst, it might have been much comforter for him to lie down and embrace death. But instead, he kept struggling and pushed his limit, because that is what a human being should be. And although someday our existence would be vanished from the earth, the legacy of our humanity will still exist through our descendants; through the spirit and the value we have inspired them.

I think I could never give enough credit to Exupéry and this book through this review alone. If you only knew how many dog-ears this book must bear, because almost in every pages I found treasures hidden beneath the beautiful poetic prose Monsieur Exupéry has woven into this memoir. I am more blessed because Forum Jakarta-Paris through French Embassy in Indonesia has decided to translate this book directly from the original French edition! Thanks for bringing this magnificent piece to our reading atmosphere; what an inspiring experience to read it!

Five stars for Terre des Hommes, Monsieur Exupéry, and Forum Jakarta-Paris!


I read Indonesian translation from Gramedia (GPU) Publisher

This book is counted as:

Friday, February 7, 2014

Roman Lives: Final Review

Roman Lives is Plutarch’ depiction of eight of Roman great rulers: Cato the Elder, Aemillius Paulus, the Gracchi (Tiberius & Gaius Gracchus), Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Caesar, and Antony. As these consuls ruled simultaneously one after another, we could see at once, the personal characters and moral behaviors of these consuls, as well as how Rome was dynamically shaped during their ruling. They might not be the greatest, but Plutarch picked them particularly as a mean of mirroring.

I treat the narrative as a kind of mirror and try to find a way to arrange my life and assimilate it to the virtues of my subjects. (…) I receive and welcome each of them in turn as my guest, so to speak, observe ‘his stature and his qualities’, and choose from his achievements those which it is particularly important and valuable for me to know. ‘And oh, what greater delight could one find than this?’ ~Plutarch

All of the consuls—succeed or failed—have brought great influences over Roman at that era, and by that, means, over the whole world. Plutarch brings us to learn how their personal characters and decisions influenced their successes and failures, and with that, all of us could learn from the greatnesses and the mistakes.

I have written brief description for each consul in my grammar-stage reading post, and from that we could get a glimpse of their achievements. Of the eight, Aemilius Paullus is my most favorite one—and I think Plutarch has placed him as the major model for an ideal great leader. Frankly speaking, this is the first time I’ve ever heard about him—and I believe he is not very popular—but it doesn’t mean he is not great. In short, I think Aemilius Paullus is what a leader should be. He was well bred, and was descended from Pythagoras the philosopher. He ruled with virtues. Unlike many young men born from noble families, who pursued as higher glory as possible in young age, Aemilius focused on his courage, fairness and integrity. This brought respect from both his friends and the people. He was very attentive in doing his jobs and guarding the traditions—he brought the same discipline while he was priest as well as military commander.

He was lenient to Roman enemies. He never enriched himself from the defeated provinces or towns, but instead, he left them united in peace, and even restored their settlements. This brought respect from his enemies, as well as his troops, for he was generous to them. When King Perseus of Macedonia troubled Rome, the people chose Aemilius to fight the enemy. He accepted it so nobly, and people were so proud, that Plutarch described it as…”this shows how the Roman people subjected themselves to virtue and goodness in order to gain power and dominion over the rest of the world.”

Aemilius’ remarkable virtue was how he regarded fortunes. He believed that after a great fortune, we must be brave and ready to accept any misfortunes that would surely come after it. One of my favorite quotes from Aemilius’ speech is after he lost his son right on his triumph after defeating Perseus. The other is his scolding Perseus for being so cowardly in accepting his misfortunes:

Courage in those who meet with misfortunes goes a long way towards enabling them to win the respect even of their enemies, but for Romans there is nothing more dishonourable than cowardice, even if the coward prospers.”

Speaking of great men of Rome, we could not overlook Pompey—The Great, and Julius Caesar. However, I see their greatnesses are mostly in their military and political achievements. They were not so great as persons. Caesar was too ambitious; all his generosities did not come from his nobleness, but because he wanted to buy people’s affection. He might have succeeded in winning people’s heart—thanks to those generous gifts—but his greediness was not left unnoticed by the Senate. Pompey, on the other hand, was loved by everyone—the Senate and the people. However, he lacked the strong principle which we often see in great men, such as Aemilius Paullus. Pompey was too susceptible and was easily spoilt by flatters. Even Caesar deplored how easily Pompey was defeated by him; that he did not show his greatness in his—probably—most important battle against Caesar. I think Pompey is glorious and was called ‘Great’, firstly, because people praised him, rather than his genuine personality.

After the best, came the worst. I still cannot decide which one of the eight is the worst consul. Is it Marius or Sulla, who made Rome lost its grandeur by their brutality? Or Antony, with his greatest flaw—his passion towards Cleopatra? I exclude the Gracchus here because I see that they were actually right by bringing reformation to support plebeian, but they did not have genius minds to cautiously execute it. They made the same mistake as Caesar, they focused too much on the people, while ignoring the Senate’s strength.

Back to the worst trio… Although I was terribly disgusted by Marius and Sulla—they do not deserve to be called ‘great’, by the way—I am mostly disappointed by Antony. He was well bred too, like Aemilius. He was loved by his colleagues and the people. Caesar even regarded him highly, and Antony became one of Caesar’s best friends. However, he could not control his passion. Antony was a great military commander; he had talent and skill. He was good in war strategy, and he was loved by his army. Their loyalty towards him, even when he abandoned them for Cleopatra, was remarkable. But again, is it worth to risk so much for only a woman—though she was as attractive as Cleopatra? Antony could have been so great, but instead he ended so low. Oh Cleopatra…..! And so, from the eight consuls in this Lives, I think Antony is the most undeserved to be called great!

This is my first history reading—yes, I have never read any history work before, shame on me!—and I’m glad I had picked Plutarch for the start. His way of telling the history is compelling, especially the battles, he told it with great details in very lively style; although he could sometimes be widely out of context while telling the historical facts. No wonder Shakespeare could be so detailed in writing Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, because he used very much the sources from Plutarch’ Lives.

Four stars for Roman Lives.


I read Oxford World’s Classics paperback

This book is counted as:

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Roman Lives: Logic-Stage and Rhetoric-Stage Reading

“The Death of Gaius Gracchus” by Jean Baptiste Topino-Lebrun (1764-1801)

What questions is Plutarch asking?

By examining each person, both his personal character and his leadership style, Plutarch wanted to find the correlation of one’s personal character and background—which shaped his morality—to his decisions and conducts.

What sources does Plutarch use to answer them?

He gathered letters and books/writings of the general’s contemporaries (Cicero’s correspondences were used most often), as well as pieces from other historians such as Livy.

Can you identify the history’s genre?

It is political history, but Roman Lives could also be included in intellectual history (of the generals).

What is the purpose of history?

Plutarch took us to learn from these generals. Although they lived in different era and circumstances, we could learn from their moral view. Anyway, we are each—in certain levels—a leader too, at least to ourselves. From these characters we learn what makes a good leader and what a bad one.

Why do things go wrong?

It’s because human tends to be greedy. Absolute power is the most dangerous substance to corrupt good men. The clearest example is Pompey. He should have been a good leader for Rome—he is a great military general, loved by his army and most importantly, by most people of Rome. He had the strongest mean, probably in Roman’s republic history, to be a great leader. However, his pride and ambition overcame his good sense, and so he made himself an easy target for Julius Caesar.

What relationship does this history have to a social problem?

The eight lives depicted here are good examples to analyze what makes good or bad state leaders. If a leader has good moral (like in Aemillius Paullus), he will lead his country wisely. If a leader focuses only in one side of the people but ignoring the other (like in the Grachii), he will bring the country to civil war. The same result will also happen if a leader proposes himself only of pure ambition (like in Julius Caesar), rather than for the country or people's sake.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Roman Lives: Grammar-Stage Reading

Does the writer state his purpose for writing?

As the Roman Lives is only a part from the complete Lives Plutarch has written, my copy does not include any preface from the writer. However, there is an introduction before each biography. It is in the Ameilius Paullus’ that I found the clearest statement about his purpose of writing the whole Lives. Plutarch tells us that the works of researching and writing the Lives is equivalent to inviting the famous statesmen as his guests, from whom he could study their remarkable qualities, and use them as means of self improvement. Plutarch regarded the Lives as a moral mirror.

What are the major events of the history?

As this book is about eight lives, I would compile and list only the biggest influences these Roman statesmen had given to the country and the world.

Cato the Elder – He was born in 234 BC as a tough, principled, and disciplined man, who then became consul in 195 BC after serving in the 2nd Punic War (220-202 BC). Cato played a major role in the defeat of Antiochus the Great in Greece in 191 BC. He instigated the final war to the Carthagians but died just after the war began, though not before he prophesied the man who would bring the war to the conclusion.

Aemilius Paullus – Aemilius was descended from Pythagoras the philosopher, and grew up as man with courage, fairness and integrity. Pursuing the career from aedile, he was sent to Spain as praetor, and later became consul. He then won the war against the Ligurians. When he was 60 years, the people appointed him to the battle against King Perseus of Macedonia. He defeated Perseus’ forces in Pydna in the great battle of 168 BC, that confirmed Roman’s absolute authority over the Greek peninsula. Unfortunately Aemilius must swap his great triumph with the death of his son.

The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus by Carle Vernet, 1789

Tiberius & Gaius Gracchus – These brothers marked the beginning of civil turmoil in Rome by their reformation, which would meet an end under the reign of Augustus. Although in different era, both Tiberius and Gaius served the younger Scipio—Tiberius in Africa in 147 BC, and Gaius in Numantia in 137 BC. Tiberius took the office as tribune in 133 BC and introduced his agrarian law which help lower classes but hurt the oligarchs. He was murdered on the day of his re-election along with his supporters. At first Gaius withdrew from political life, but after having been sent to Sardinia as a quaestor, he set his mind to be elected as tribune in 123 BC, as he amazed the people by his great rhetoric skill. He soon proposed laws to gratify the people and sabotage the senate. Then Gaius was sent to Carthage, came home for re-election, but was finally killed by his oligarchs’ enemies along with three thousands supporters.

Marius – Being an outstanding general, although not from noble family, Marius was elected consul for seven times (157-86 BC). His first reputation came from his successful defeat of King of Numidian: Jugurtha in 107-105 BC, when he was praetor to the then consul: Metellus. When King Mithridates of Pontus, Asia was rising, he longed for another military command, but his competitor Sulla snatched it from him. But their rivalry was postponed by the Social War, where the whole Italy raised arms against Rome. Marius won while his old age (65 years) slowed him down, but Sulla deserved the credits. Sulla put him into exile, but he found way to come back and killed many Romans before his death.

Sulla – Sulla was born in 138 BC, and became Marius’ quaestor. Because of his special relationship with Kinf Bocchus of Mauretania, he succeeded in taking the rebellious King Jugurtha into custody in 105 BC. This brought him a long term rivalry with Marius, but also influenced his future career: magistrate a deal with the Parthian in 90 BC, and elected consul in 88 BC. He was inconsistent, and often breaking his own promises. He captured Rome twice, and made himself a dictator.

Pompey – born from Strabo, Pompey has stolen people’s affection since he was very young, and he soon became popular. He worked for his father and fought against Cinna, and gained popularity. Pompey first made himself commander of an army in Picenum at his 23 years of age. He took campaigns in Sicily, Africa (fighting Domitius), and Sertorius in Spain. He was made consul in 70 BC. Then he fought the piracy, and had three triumphs in Europe, Asia and Africa, expanding Rome’s domination to three continents. He formed a triumvirate with Caesar and Crassus, and had a familial relationship with Caesar who was then started to rise. But after Crassus died, they soon fight for sole-power. Pompey was defeated in the Civil War (52 BC), took a refuge, and died at 59 years old.

Caesar – started his career in 61 BC, Caesar was opposed by Sulla because of his relationship with Marius. After hiding in Sabine and replenishing his oratory and advocate skill in Greek, he came home to Rome to win people’s admiration and loyalty with spectacular life he led. People called him Imperator after he defeated Spain. Cato was his biggest opposition, but Caesar pretended to reconcile Pompey and Crassus, while at the end he formed a triumvirate with them. After Crassus’ death, he did not have to be pretending anymore, he fought and defeated Pompey, then became the sole Imperator. Actually the citizen was relieved with the end of civil war, and they would have liked Caesar, if he did not begin to think about being a tyranny. The Senate began to worry, and the conspirators arranged to kill him on the famous ides of March.

Antony – Born from a respectable family, Antony was corrupted by his friend with a hedonist culture. He moved to Greece, perfecting his military and oratory skill. His first mission is beating Aristobulus in Syria, then helping Ptolemy to invade Egypt. Antony got favourable impression from people of Egypt, and was loved by the Roman. He then became Caesar’s supporter and loyal friend. After Caesar’s death, Antony defeated the conspirators and divided Rome between him and Augustus—Caesar’s nephew, he ruled the Eastern. His future was more or less ruined by his passion for Cleopatra; he lost his great skill, and was finally defeated by Augustus. He died in Alexandria, 30 BC, on Cleopatra’s embrace after taking suicide.  

Who is this story about?

It’s about eight of the greatest leaders of Rome. They were politician and/or military commander who in one era ruled over Rome. Plutarch lets us see their moral and characters; their greatness and their flaws, so that we can learn from them.

When does the story take place?

From Cato the Elder (born on 234 BC) to Antony (died on 30 BC), Plutarch has covered about 200 years of Roman history. He himself lived at 46 to 120 AD), so it was about 100 - 200 years separated him with his subjects.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

My Birthday Giveaway

February is a special month for me, as I was born in February, one day after the Valentine’s day. This year I am very grateful of what God has done to my family when we were in hard times. Those times are still a nightmare for me, things I don’t want to keep remembering, however, I also cannot forget how he has saved us and embraced us with His Love. So, I want to have this giveaway for all my followers, the existing and the new ones. There will be two giveaways during February:

Reading Dickens Event (with Giveaway)
only for participants

I am hosting an event of reading Dickens books and/or books about Dickens. If you are interested to participate, here is the master post, I have included a linky for your posts. The linky will be closed on February 28th at 12:59 PM. I will pick one post randomly, and the winner will get:

One book by Dickens from Penguin English Library collections

  • The book will be dispatched from The Book Depository, so make sure TBD can ship to your country (check this list).
  • The winner has 2x24 hours to respond to  my email notification, otherwise I will pick another winner, so…
  • Make sure you enter your valid email address in the linky.

 This giveaway is ONLY for Reading Dickens participants. But ALL of you (participants or not) can join my second giveaway:

My Birthday Giveaway

One winner will get book(s) from my Review A-Z index, for max. $12 or IDR 100.000

  1. Everyone can enter, it is an INTERNATIONAL giveaway.
  2. The book will be dispatched from The Book Depository, so make sure TBD can ship to your country (check this list). 
  3. For Indonesian participants, you can pick the Indonesian translation, the book will be dispatched from, I will bear the shipping charge.
  4. Fill in this Google form to enter the giveaway. 
  5. The name and email address are mandatory.
  6. You MUST be a follower at least by one of these choices (GFC, e-mail, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter).
  7. For extra entries, you can follow me by any media other than no. 6 (not mandatory).
  8. For extra entry, you can share the giveaway on Twitter (not mandatory).
  9. Tell me what book you would pick if you win, and why (mandatory).
  10. The winner has 2x24 hours to respond to my email notification, otherwise I will pick another winner, so…
  11. Make sure you enter your valid email address in the email field.

Good luck! ;)