The first systems of writing developed and used by the Germanic peoples were runic alphabets. The runes functioned as letters, but they were much more than just letters in the sense in which we today understand the term. Each rune was an ideographic or pictographic symbol of some cosmological principle or power, and to write a rune was to invoke and direct the force for which it stood. Indeed, in every Germanic language, the word “rune” (from Proto-Germanic *runo) means both “letter” and “secret” or “mystery,” and its original meaning, which likely predated the adoption of the runic alphabet, may have been simply “(hushed) message.”
Hard cases, it is said, make bad law. The adage is widely considered true for the Supreme Court of India which held in the height of the Emergency, in ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla that detenus under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) could not approach the judiciary if their fundamental rights were violated. Not only was the law laid down unconscionable, but it also smacked of a Court more “executive-minded than the executive”, complicit in its own independence being shattered by an all-powerful government. So deep has been the impact of this judgment that the Supreme Court’s current activist avatar is widely viewed as having its genesis in a continuing need to atone. Expressions of such atonement have created another Court made to measure — this time not to the measure of the government but rather the aggrandised self-image of some of its judges.
Sound the alarm! The kingdom of letters has admitted Trojan horses: James Frey, JT Leroy, Misha Defonseca, Margaret B. Jones, Herman Rosenblat, and now Matt McCarthy, portions of whose baseball memoir, the New York Times reports, are “incorrect, embellished or impossible.” The watchmen have let down their guards. I write: Hold your horses. In the rush to diagnose these fake memoirs as symptoms of a diseased culture, we have failed to consider an equally plausible alternative. What if the exposure of fake memoirists is not due to an increased frequency of lying, but rather to our increased ability to root out liars and hold them accountable for their verisimilitudes? Perhaps the outings of these hoaxes mark not a blurring of the line between fact and fiction, but a further demarcation.
Considered amongst the greatest works of Western literature, the Iliad, paired with its sequel, the Odyssey, is attributed to Homer. However, that the author of the Iliad was not the same as the compiler of the fantastic tales in the Odyssey is arguable on several scores. The two epics belong to different literary types; the Iliad is essentially dramatic in its confrontation of opposing warriors who converse like the actors in Attic tragedy, while the Odyssey is cast as a novel narrated in more everyday human speech. In their physical structure, also, the two epics display an equally pronounced difference. The Odyssey is composed in six distinct cantos of four chapters ("books") each, whereas the Iliad moves unbrokenly forward with only one irrelevant episode in its tightly woven plot.