An Interactive Map of Odysseus’ 10-Year Journey in Homer’s Odyssey

The Odyssey, one of Homer's two great epics, narrates Odysseus' long, strange trip home after the Trojan war. During their ten-year journey, Odysseus and his men had to overcome divine and natural forces, from battering storms and winds to difficult encounters with the Cyclops Polyphemus, the cannibalistic Laestrygones, the witch-goddess Circe and the rest. And they took a most circuitous route, bouncing all over the Mediterranean, moving first down to Crete and Tunisia. Next over to Sicily, then off toward Spain, and back to Greece again.

If you're looking for an easy way to visualize all of the twists and turns in The Odyssey, then we'd recommend spending some time with the interactive map created by Gisèle Mounzer"Odysseus' Journey" breaks down Odysseus' voyage into 14 key scenes and locates them on a modern map designed by Esri, a company that creates GIS mapping software.

Meanwhile, if you're interested in the whole concept of ancient travel, we'd suggest revisiting one of our previous posts: Play Caesar: Travel Ancient Rome with Stanford’s Interactive Map. It tells you all about ORBIS, a geospatial network model, that lets you simulate journeys in Ancient Roman. You pick the points of origin and destination for a trip, and ORBIS will reconstruct the duration and financial cost of making the ancient journey.

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Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in December, 2013.

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Why You Should Read The Master and Margarita: An Animated Introduction to Bulgakov’s Rollicking Soviet Satire

Which are the essential Russian novels? Quite a few undeniable contenders come to mind right away: Fathers and SonsCrime and PunishmentWar and PeaceAnna KareninaThe Brothers KaramazovDr. ZhivagoOne Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. But among serious enthusiasts of Russian literature, novels don't come much less deniable than The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov's tale of the Devil's visit to Soviet Moscow in the 1930s. This "surreal blend of political satire, historical fiction, and occult mysticism," as Alex Gendler describes it in the animated TED-Ed video above, "has earned a legacy as one of the 20th century’s greatest novels — and one of its strangest."

The Master and Margarita consists of two parallel narratives. In the first, "a meeting between two members of Moscow’s literary elite is interrupted by a strange gentleman named Woland, who presents himself as a foreign scholar invited to give a presentation on black magic." Then, "as the stranger engages the two companions in a philosophical debate and makes ominous predictions about their fates, the reader is suddenly transported to first-century Jerusalem," where "a tormented Pontius Pilate reluctantly sentences Jesus of Nazareth to death."

The novel oscillates between the story of the historical Jesus — though not quite the one the Bible tells — and that of Woland and his entourage, which includes an enormous cat named Behemoth with a taste for chess, vodka, wisecracks, and firearms. Dark humor flows liberally from their antics, as well as from Bulgakov's depiction of "the USSR at the height of the Stalinist period. There, artists and authors worked under strict censorship, subject to imprisonment, exile, or execution if they were seen as undermining state ideology."

The devilish Woland plays this overbearing bureaucratic life like a fiddle, and "as heads are separated from bodies and money rains from the sky, the citizens of Moscow react with petty-self interest, illustrating how Soviet society bred greed and cynicism despite its ideals." Such content would naturally render a book unpublishable at the time, and though Bulgakov's earlier satire The Heart of a Dog (in which a surgeon transplants human organs into a dog and then insists he behave as a human) circulated in samizdat form, he couldn't even complete The Master and Margarita before his death in 1940.

"Bulgakov’s experiences with censorship and artistic frustration lend an autobiographical air to the second part of the novel, when we are finally introduced to its namesake," says Gendler. "The Master is a nameless author who’s worked for years on a novel but burned the manuscript after it was rejected by publishers — just as Bulgakov had done with his own work. Yet the true protagonist is the Master’s mistress Margarita," whose "devotion to her lover’s abandoned dream bears a strange connection to the diabolical company’s escapades — and carries the story to its surreal climax."

In the event, a censored version of The Master and Margarita was first published in the 1960s, and an as-complete-as-possible version eventually appeared in 1973. Against the odds, the manuscript that Bulgakov left behind survived him to become a masterpiece that has inspired not just other Russian writers, but creators like the Rolling StonesPatti Smith, and (in a perhaps less than safe-for-work manner) H.R. Giger as well. Perhaps the author himself had some premonition of the book's potential: manuscripts, as he famously has Woland say to the Master, don't burn.

Looking for free, professionally-read audio books from Audible.com? (This could include The Master and Margarita.) Here’s a great, no-strings-attached deal. If you start a 30 day free trial with Audible.com, you can download two free audio books of your choice. Get more details on the offer here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

When Boris Pasternak Won–and Then the Soviets Forced Him to Decline–the Nobel Prize (1958)

Behind the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature, there are stories upon stories, some as juicy as those in the work of winners like William Faulkner or Gabriel García Márquez—and some just as devastating to the parties involved. Last year’s award was postponed after sexual assault allegations lead to several members to resigning. (There will be two prizes awarded for 2019.) The charges needed to be aired, but if you’re looking for details about how the secretive committee selects the nominees and winners, you’ll have to wait a while.

“The Swedish Academy keeps all information about nominations and selections for the prestigious award secret for 50 years,” writes Allison Flood at The Guardian. Newly unsealed documents from the Academy have shone light on Jean-Paul Sartre’s rejection of the prize in 1964, and the shunning of Samuel Beckett in 1968 by committee chairman Anders Österling, who found his work too nihilistic (Beckett won the following year), and of Vladimir Nabokov, whose Lolita Österling declared “immoral.”

Perhaps the saddest of Nobel stories has taken on even more vivid detail, not only through newly opened files of the Nobel Prize committee, but also recently declassified CIA documents that show how the agency used Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago as a propaganda tool (handing out hasty re-translations into Russian to Soviet visitors at the World’s Fair). In October 1958, the author was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He had, as The Guardian reported in October of that year, intended to “accept it in person in Stockholm next month.” He may have had little reason to think he could not do so.

Despite his role as a perpetual thorn in the side of the Soviet government, and their attempts to suppress his work and refusal to allow Doctor Zhivago to be published, the repressive regime mostly gave Pasternak his relative freedom, even after the novel was smuggled abroad, translated, and released to an international readership. Whether or not the Nobel committee chose him as an anti-Communist statement, as some have alleged, made no difference to his reputation around the world as a penetrating realist in the great Russian novelistic tradition.

The award might have been perceived as a validation of Russian letters, but the Soviets saw it as a threat. They had “raged” against Doctor Zhivago and its "anti-Marxist" passages, “but that only increased its popularity,” writes Ben Panko at Smithsonian. Pasternak had already been “repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Prize” and the “worldwide buzz around his new book pushed him to the top of the list in 1958.” Upon learning of the win, he sent a telegram to the committee that read, in part, “Thankful, glad, proud, confused.”

Days later, as The Guardian wrote, Pasternak decided to decline the award “without having consulted even his friends.” He sent a short telegram to the Swedish Academy reading:

Considering the meaning this award has been given in the society to which I belong, I must reject this undeserved prize which has been presented to me. Please do not receive my voluntary rejection with displeasure. - Pasternak.

The author’s “decision” was not as abrupt as it might have seemed. In the days after his win, a storm raged, as he put it. Even before the declassified trove of information, readers around the world could follow the story, “which had more twists and turns than a Cold War-era spy novel,” Tina Jordan writes at The New York Times. It played out in the papers “with one front-page story after another.” Pasternak angered the Soviets by expressing his “delight” at winning the prize in an interview. He was denounced in Soviet newspapers, called by a Pravda editor a “malevolent Philistine” and “libeler,” and his book described as “low-grade reactionary hackwork.”

Pasternak faced exile in the days after he gave up the prize and issued a forced public apology in Pravda on November 6. The Academy held the ceremony in his absence and placed his award in trust “in case he may some day have a chance to accept them,” the Times reported. Pasternak had hoped to be reinstated to the Soviet Writer’s Union, which had expelled him, and had hoped that his novel would be published in his own country and language in his lifetime.

Neither of these things occurred. The events surrounding the Nobel broke him. His health began to fail and he died two years later in 1960. Pasternak’s son Yevgeny describes in moving detail seeing his father the night after he turned down the Nobel. “I couldn’t recognize my father when I saw him that evening. Pale, lifeless face, tired painful eyes, and only speaking about the same thing: ‘Now it all doesn’t matter, I declined the Prize.’” Doctor Zhivago was published in the Soviet Union in 1988. “The following year,” notes Panko, “Yevgeny was allowed to go to Oslo and retrieve his father’s denied prize.”

Looking for free, professionally-read audio books from Audible.com? That could include  Doctor Zhivago. Here’s a great, no-strings-attached deal. If you start a 30 day free trial with Audible.com, you can download two free audio books of your choice. Get more details on the offer here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Why You Should Read Crime and Punishment: An Animated Introduction to Dostoevsky’s Moral Thriller

A desperately poor law student kills a pawnbroker. There we have the story, maximally distilled, of Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and PunishmentOr at least we have the central event, to which everything in Dostoevsky's best-known novel leads and from which everything else follows. But as with so many 19th-century Russian novels, there's much more to it than that; some Dostoevsky enthusiasts see the book as not just the story of a murder's meditation and aftermath but an incisive portrayal of the eternal moral condition of humanity. But since such grand-sounding claims no doubt put off as many readers as they bring in, we'd do better to ask a simpler question: Why should you read Crime and Punishment?

The animated TED-Ed lesson by Alex Gendler above answers that question in four and a half animated minutes. "Though the novel is sometimes cited as one of the first psychological thrillers," Gendler says, its scope reaches far beyond the inner turmoil of the student-turned-killer Raskolnikov. "From dank taverns to dilapidated apartments and claustrophobic police stations, the underbelly of 19th-century Saint Petersburg is brought to life by Dostoyevsky’s searing prose."

With its large cast of fully realized and often not-quite-savory inhabitants, this "bleak portrait of Russian society reflects the author’s own complex life experiences and evolving ideas" — experiences that included four years in a Siberian labor camp as punishment for his participation in intellectual discussions of banned socialist texts.

You might assume that such a background would produce a bitter writer concerned only with revenge against the state, but Dostoevsky's social critique, Gendler says, "cuts far deeper. Raskolnikov rationalizes that his own advancement at the cost of the exploitative pawnbroker’s death would be a net benefit to society," which "echoes the doctrines of egoism and utilitarianism embraced by many of Dostoyevsky’s contemporary intellectuals." And all of us, not just intellectuals and political leaders, have the potential to cut ourselves off from our own humanity as Raskolnikov does. Some of us face punishment for the crimes we commit, but many of us don't — or not official, externally applied punishment, in any case, but "Dostoyevsky’s gripping account of social and psychological turmoil" still shows us how the harshest punishment comes from within.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Hunter S. Thompson’s Ballsy Job Application Letter (1958)

Image by RS79 , via Wikimedia Commons

In 1958, Hunter S. Thompson applied for a job with the Vancouver Sun. He was fresh out of the Air Force and struggling to make a living in New York City, though from the tone of the letter you wouldn’t know it.

People who are experts in such things say that good cover letters should match the employer’s needs with the applicant's abilities, should be tailored specifically to the job in question and should show some personality. By those yardsticks, Thompson’s letter to the Vancouver Sun is a model to be followed. He lays out his eagerness to work: "I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary." Any HR manager would be tickled with lines like that. He succinctly describes his work experience: "most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews." And for any other fault you might find with the letter, it definitely doesn't lack in personality.

Yet the letter somehow failed to charm his would-be employer; Thompson never moved to Vancouver. Perhaps they were given pause by Thompson's steady stream of insults directed towards his former editor -- "It was as if the Marquis De Sade had suddenly found himself working for Billy Graham" -- and towards journalism in general: "It's a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity." Or perhaps it was his intentionally off-putting arrogance, "I'd rather offend you now than after I started working for you." In any case, it's a hoot to read. More people should write job application letters like this.

Read the full letter below.

Vancouver Sun
TO JACK SCOTT, VANCOUVER SUN
October 1, 1958 57 Perry Street New York City

Sir,
I got a hell of a kick reading the piece Time magazine did this week on The Sun. In addition to wishing you the best of luck, I'd also like to offer my services.

Since I haven't seen a copy of the "new" Sun yet, I'll have to make this a tentative offer. I stepped into a dung-hole the last time I took a job with a paper I didn't know anything about (see enclosed clippings) and I'm not quite ready to go charging up another blind alley.

By the time you get this letter, I'll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. Unless it looks totally worthless, I'll let my offer stand. And don't think that my arrogance is unintentional: it's just that I'd rather offend you now than after I started working for you.

I didn't make myself clear to the last man I worked for until after I took the job. It was as if the Marquis de Sade had suddenly found himself working for Billy Graham. The man despised me, of course, and I had nothing but contempt for him and everything he stood for. If you asked him, he'd tell you that I'm "not very likable, (that I) hate people, (that I) just want to be left alone, and (that I) feel too superior to mingle with the average person." (That's a direct quote from a memo he sent to the publisher.)

Nothing beats having good references.

Of course if you asked some of the other people I've worked for, you'd get a different set of answers. If you're interested enough to answer this letter, I'll be glad to furnish you with a list of references -- including the lad I work for now.

The enclosed clippings should give you a rough idea of who I am. It's a year old, however, and I've changed a bit since it was written. I've taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession.

As far as I'm concerned, it's a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you're trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I'd like to work for you.

Most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews.

I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don't give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations.
I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of.
It's a long way from here to British Columbia, but I think I'd enjoy the trip.

If you think you can use me, drop me a line.

If not, good luck anyway.

Sincerely,

Hunter S. Thompson

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in April 2015.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

When Dracula Author Bram Stoker Wrote a Gushing Fan Letter to Walt Whitman (1870)

Every artist starts out as a fan, and in general we see the marks of early fandom on their mature work. The best, after all—as figures from Igor Stravinsky to William Faulkner have remarked—steal without compunction, taking what they like from their heroes and making it their own. But what exactly, we might wonder, did Dracula author Bram Stoker steal from his literary hero, Walt Whitman? I leave it to you to read the 1897 Gothic novel that spawned innumerable undead franchises and fandoms next to Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, the book that most inspired Stoker when it made its British debut in 1868.

First published in 1855, then rewritten over the rest of Whitman’s life, the book of poetry boldly celebrated the same pleasure and sensuality that Stoker’s novel made so dangerous. But Dracula was the work of a 50-year old writer. When Stoker first read Whitman, he was only 22, wide-eyed and romantic, and “grown from a sickly boy into a brawny athlete,” writes Meredith Hindley at the National Endowment for the Humanities magazine.

Whitman—himself a champion of robust masculine health (he once penned a manual called “Manly Health & Training”)—so appealed to the young Irish writer’s deep sensibilities that he wrote the older poet a gushing letter two years later in 1870.

Stoker’s fan letter certainly shows the Whitmanian influence, “a long stream of sentiment cascading through various emotions,” as Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova describes it, including “surging confidence bordering on hubris, delicate self-doubt, absolute artist-to-artist adoration.” Whitman, flattered and charmed, wrote a reply, but only after four years, during which Stoker sat on his letter, ashamed to mail it. “For four years, it haunted his desk, part muse and part goblin.” When he finally gathered the courage in 1876 to rewrite the emotional letter and put it in the mail, he was rewarded with the kind of praise that must have absolutely thrilled him.

“You did so well to write to me,” Whitman replied, “so unconventionally, so fresh, so manly, and affectionately too.” Thus began a literary friendship that lasted until Whitman’s death in 1892 and seems to have been as welcome to Whitman as to his biggest fan. A stroke had nearly incapacitated the poet in 1873 and sapped his health and strength for the last two decades of his life, leaving him, as he wrote, with a physique “entirely shatter’d—doubtless permanently—from paralysis and other ailments.” But “I am up and dress’d,” he added, “and get out every day a little, live here quite lonesome, but hearty, and good spirits.”

One also wonders if Stoker would have received such a warm response if he had mailed his original letter unchanged. The “previously unsent effusion,” notes Popova, “opens with an abrupt directness unguarded even by a form of address.” Put another way, it’s blunt, melodramatic, and overly familiar to the point of rudeness: “If you are the man I take you to be,” he begins, “you will like to get this letter. If you are not I don’t care whether you like it or not and only ask that you put it in to the fire without reading any farther.” Contrast this with the revised communication, which begins with the respectful salutation, “My dear Mr. Whitman,” and continues in relatively formal, though still highly spirited, vein.

Stoker had mellowed and matured, but he never left behind his adoration for Whitman and Leaves of Grass. When he eloquently sums up the effect reading the book and its original 1855 preface had on him—he echoes the feelings of millions of fans throughout the ages who have found a voice that speaks to them from far away of feelings they know intimately but cannot express at home:

Be assured of this Walt Whitman—that a man of less than half your own age, reared a conservative in a conservative country, and who has always heard your name cried down by the great mass of people who mention it, here felt his heat leap towards you across the Atlantic and his soul swelling at the words or rather the thoughts.

Read Stoker’s original and revised letters and Whitman’s brief, touching response at Brain Pickings.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

“Gonzo” Defined by Hunter S. Thompson’s Personal Copy of the Random House Dictionary

via The Hunter S. Thompson Facebook Page

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