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21 april 2019

Don Juan was invented, or at least first set on stage and paper, by the Spanish playwright Tirso de Molina in the early 17th century. He soon went viral. At times it seems like every 17th- or 18th-century writer with any ambition wrote a Don Juan piece, or a knockoff thereof. Mozart and Byron, in their distinctive ways, helped European culture reach Peak Don Juan in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. But that just meant that the Don went global, where he continues to find new interpreters, right down to Murakami's Killing Commendatore a couple of years ago.     read more

16 april 2019

"Until recently a familiar botanical mantra was 'dinosaurs did not eat grass'," says Stephen A. Harris in his Reaktion Botanical volume Grasses (21). Like so many things I learn, I only came across this truism after it had been proved untrue. Recent fossil finds indicate that some grasses were present in the Cretaceous Period, as far back as 100 million years ago. I guess I'd figured that some of the stocky dinosaurs of popular culture, the triceratops and stegosaurs of museum fame, were grazers; I guess I'd never much thought about it. I may have been correct all along.     read more

14 april 2019

Bisclavret is your typical medieval tale of courtly love, torture, and werewolves.     read more

13 april 2019

Li Lun Lad of Courage begins his story as a coward. Imagine growing up on an island where there's nothing to do but sail in pursuit of fish – and you're afraid of the water! Wang Lun is disgusted by his son's wimpy behavior. If the kid won't go off in a boat, he will just have to climb to the top of Lao Shan, the island's mountain, and grow some rice. This is a breathtakingly stupid task. What point is there to growing rice on top of a mountain? It must be Symbolic. That, or the old man is as dumb as he's mean.     read more