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New Writing Group Launched on Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill has it all, we like to think. Its own chiropractor, its own pharmacy, its own chocolate shop. And now, it even has its very own writers’ circle.
The brand new Beacon Hill Writing Group held its first-ever meeting this past Wednesday. Its goal is to provide a warm, welcoming environment that will motivate its members to write each week, and to share their work in a safe, non-critical setting.

Beacon Hill Writing Group
Beacon Hill Writing Group

So far, most members are from the neighborhood.
“I’ve lived on Beacon Hill for the past 14 years,” said Jenny Attiyeh, one of the group’s founding members. “I’m a journalist, and I’m happy as a journalist, but I’ve always wanted to be a writer with a capital W. So I thought, why not start a writers’ group? That way, I won’t be all on my own. I’ll have some support and encouragement as I try to do something that’s new and challenging.”
The camaraderie is key. Meetings are planned for Wednesday evenings at members’ homes, and will rotate among those who can accommodate the group.
“There are so many opportunities for writers today with digital media alongside traditional magazines, newspapers and hard copy books,” said Gigi Cockerill, a founding member.
Writing of any kind is an art form that requires practice and skill. Having relationships with other aspiring writers will be a real source of inspiration for me.”

— The Beacon Hill Times, February 18, 2014

Posted on February 18, 2014 in Literature, Poetry, Public Media
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Charles Simic’s the choice at San Francisco’s Dog Eared Books!

Note: This interview was broadcast on KUT-FM, an NPR station based in Austin, Texas.

Kate Rosenberger, owner
Kate Rosenberger, owner
Kate Rosenberger is one of those rare people who collects independent book stores in San Francisco the way the rest of us collect antique door stops, or unusual African masks. Her most recent acquisition is Alley Cat Books, but she also owns Phoenix and Red Hill Books, and we met at Dog Eared Books, her fourth store, in the Mission district.

Dog Eared Books
Dog Eared Books

When asked to discuss a piece of writing that’s had a profound impact on her, Kate chose Charles Simic‘s poem Gray-Headed Schoolchildren. Born in Serbia, Simic came to the US as a teenager, but went on to write his poems in English, win the Pulitzer prize, and become the U.S. Poet Laureate. His poetry is often stark, perhaps reflecting his formative years, spent surviving World War II.

Kate Rosenberger & customers
Kate Rosenberger & customers
Note: This interview is the sixth in a ThoughtCast series which examines a specific piece of writing — be it a poem, play, novel, short story, work of non-fiction or scrap of papyrus — that’s had a significant influence on the interviewee, that’s shaped and moved them. Prior interviewees include author Tom Perrotta, poetry critic Helen Vendler, and other independent bookstore owners – from Ireland!

Click here to listen (11 minutes.)

Posted on December 16, 2012 in Literature, Poetry
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Rediscovering James Joyce in Dublin with editor Maurice Earls

Note: This interview was broadcast on KUT-FM, an NPR station based in Austin,Texas.

James Joyce
James Joyce, 1915
James Joyce was born and raised in Dublin, and it was from Dublin he fled as a young man, to Trieste, in order to write Ulysses, perhaps the key novel of the early 20th century.
But before he left, he began to write A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which, as most of us will remember, is a rite of passage not only for its main character, the sensitive, acute Stephen Dedalus (the alter ego for Joyce himself), but also for the impressed and impressionable reader.
When I asked the scholar, bookseller and editor Maurice Earls to pick a piece of writing to discuss that’s had a tremendous impact on him, it was this novel that he chose.

Books Upstairs
Books Upstairs, Dublin

Himself a Dubliner, Earls is joint editor of the Dublin Review of Books. Of special interest to ThoughtCast listeners, he’s also penned an essay on Helen Vendler’s Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries.
Just hours before an author event was to take place in his small, singular independent bookstore Books Upstairs, ThoughtCast spoke with Earls about “A Portrait” at length. The conversation brought me back to my own strong feelings about this book, which had a tremendous impact on me as well, many years ago.

Click here (24 minutes) to listen!

Posted on April 23, 2012 in Literature
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Louis Menand, John Summers and Dan Aaron take on Dwight MacDonald

Louis Menand
Louis Menand
Back in the day when Dwight MacDonald was a household name (on the Upper West Side, at least) his critique of “middlebrow” American culture, and its inflated self-regard, singed eyebrows. Today, do his arguments still sting? After listening to three academics discuss MacDonald’s Masscult and Midcult: Essays Against the American Grain, recently released by New York Review Books Classics, the audience at the Harvard Book Store might say ‘yes’. But then they might not agree on what exactly MacDonald’s message is.
The conversation, with New Yorker staff writer and Harvard literature professor Louis Menand, the author and Baffler magazine editor John Summers, and the longtime scholar and critic Daniel Aaron, lasts 30 minutes.

Click here: to listen, and judge for yourself!

Posted on October 24, 2011 in Harvard Luminaries, Literature
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Tales from Donegal, told in Kenny’s Bookshop

Note: This interview was broadcast on KUT-FM, an NPR station based in Austin, Texas.

Charles McGlinchy
Charles McGlinchy
In 1861 in Clonmany, on the Inishowen peninsula in the far north of County Donegal Ireland, Charles McGlinchy was born.  His was a windblown, rough world, wracked with beauty and hardship. A weaver by trade, and a bachelor, in his old age he realized he was the last of the McGlinchys, the last of his name. Night after night, he told his tale to an old neighbor, the schoolmaster Patrick Kavanagh, who wrote it all down. Patrick’s son Desmond found these copybooks after his father’s death, and offered them to Brian Friel, the renowned Irish playwright, who then edited the manuscript into a book called The Last of the Name.
This same book is what Desmond Kenny, of Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway, chose to discuss in our interview. When asked to pick a piece of writing that’s had a tremendous impact on him, he wandered the rich shelves of the shop, musing over all the books he’s known and loved, until he lighted upon this one, and knew it was the right choice. We spoke after hours in the family run book shop, which recently celebrated its 70th anniversary.
Click here: to listen to this ThoughtCast interview (18 minutes).

Posted on September 8, 2011 in History, Literature
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Talks@Harvard Book Store: Sean Dorrance Kelly

This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series Talks@Harvard Book Store
Sean Dorrance Kelly

(photo by Jenny Attiyeh)

Sean Dorrance Kelly, a voluble, high-octane philosopher and Harvard professor, spoke at the Harvard Book Store recently about his latest creation: All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age,  which he co-wrote with Hubert Dreyfus, another professor of philosophy, this time at Berkeley.

ThoughtCast was there, and made this recording. (28 minutes.)
So take a listen, and let us know what you think!

Posted on August 10, 2011 in Harvard Luminaries, Literature, Philosophy
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Honor and Fair Play in Homer’s Iliad

Note: the audio version of this interview was broadcast on the WGBH sister stations WCAI/WNAN, and also on KUT in Austin, Texas!

In this fifth installment of Faculty Insight, produced in partnership with Harvard University Extension School, ThoughtCast speaks with the esteemed Harvard classicist Gregory Nagy about one of the earliest and greatest legends of all time: Homer’s epic story of the siege of Troy, called The Iliad. It’s a story of god-like heroes and blood-soaked battles; honor, pride, shame and defeat.
In this interview, we dissect a key scene in The Iliad, where Hector and Achilles are about to meet in battle. Athena is also on hand, and she plays a crucial if underhanded role, with the grudging approval of her father, Zeus.
And Nagy is of course the perfect guide to this classic tale. He’s the director of Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington DC, as well as the Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard.

We spoke in his office at Widener Library.

Click here: to listen to a longer audio version of this interview! (9 minutes)

Posted on July 12, 2011 in Faculty Insight, Harvard Luminaries, History, Literature, Poetry
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Tom Perrotta on Flannery O’Connor — a literary affinity

Note: This interview was broadcast on the WGBH sister stations WCAI/WNAN, and also on KUT, in Austin, Texas!

Tom Perrotta, the author of Little Children, Election, The Abstinence Teacher and the upcoming novel The Leftovers, speaks with ThoughtCast about a writer who fascinates, irritates and inspires him: Flannery O’Connor.

Flannery O'Connor
Flannery O'Connor in her driveway in 1962 (photo credit: Joe McTyre)

His relationship with her borders on kinship, and he admires and admonishes her as he would a family member, with whom he shares a bond both genetic and cultural.
When asked to choose a specific piece of writing that’s had a significant impact on him, Tom chose O’Connor’s short story Good Country People, but then he threw in two others — Everything that Rises Must Converge and Revelation. As Tom explains, these three stories chart O’Connor’s careful trajectory, her unique vision, and her genius.
Click here (30 minutes) to listen!

This interview is the second in a new ThoughtCast series which examines a specific piece of writing — be it a poem, play, novel, short story, work of non-fiction or scrap of papyrus — that’s had a significant influence on the interviewee, that’s shaped and moved them.
Up next: Harvard Classicist Gregory Nagy on Homer’s Iliad, and the final, fatal battle between Hector and Achilles.

Posted on July 10, 2011 in Front Page, Literature
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Harvard Critic Helen Vendler on Emily Dickinson

Note: This interview was broadcast on the WGBH sister stations WCAI/WNAN, Prairie Public Radio, and on KUT in Austin, Texas.

Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson
When Helen Vendler was only 13, the future poetry critic and Harvard professor memorized several of Emily Dickinson’s more famous poems. They’ve stayed with her over the years, and today, she talks with ThoughtCast’s Jenny Attiyeh about one poem in particular that’s haunted her all this time.  It’s called I cannot live with You-
According to Vendler, whose authoritative Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries has recently been published, it’s a heartbreaking poem of an unresolvable dilemma, and ensuing despair.
Click here (18 minutes) to listen!

This interview is the first in a new ThoughtCast series which examines a specific piece of writing — be it a poem, play, novel, short story, work of non-fiction or scrap of papyrus — that’s had a significant influence on the interviewee, that’s shaped and moved them.

Up next – esteemed novelist and short story writer Tom Perrotta discusses Good Country People,  a short story by Flannery O’Connor that’s particularly meaningful to him.

Posted on February 3, 2011 in Front Page, Harvard Luminaries, Literature, Poetry
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Boston Book Festival – year two!

The second annual Boston Book Festival will be held on Saturday October 16th, and note bene, it’s free and open to the public!  ThoughtCast’s Jenny Attiyeh will be hosting a discussion titled True Story: The Art of Nonfiction.  As soon as it’s available, we’ll post the recording, but in the meantime, here’s the blurb:
“Writing a work of non-fiction that’s a page-turner has its challenges. The authors of three diverse works tell all: Noah Feldman’s latest, Scorpions, digs into the amazing stories of four of FDR’s most influential Supreme Court justices. Richard Cohen’s Chasing the Sun is a compendium of entertaining and scholarly lore about our solar system’s brightest star. Kathryn Schulz succeeds in being both witty and erudite while answering the question “why do we love being right?” in Being Wrong.”

Posted on October 10, 2010 in Literature
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Rebecca Goldstein: the atheist with a soul

Note: this interview was broadcast on WGBH, Boston’s NPR station for news and culture!

Rebecca Goldstein
Rebecca Goldstein

Rebecca Goldstein’s latest work, called 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, is perhaps best described as a hybrid. It is indeed a novel, with its share of psychology, mathematics and academic politics, but it concludes with an appendix outlining these 36 arguments, as well as their rebuttals, in the language not of fiction, but of philosophy. So, as in many of Goldstein’s earlier novels, this one manages to fold ideas into art.
ThoughtCast spoke with Rebecca in her home in the Leather District, in downtown Boston.
Click here (28 minutes) to listen.
Click here (90 minutes) to listen to a discussion with Rebecca Goldstein and Steven Pinker, sponsored by PEN New England.  It’s titled Mind-Body Problems: A Conversation About Science, Fiction and God, and focuses mainly on Rebecca’s latest novel.

Steven Pinker
Steven Pinker
Rebecca Goldstein received her doctorate in philosophy from Princeton, and went on to teach philosophy before trying her pen at fiction. Her first novel, The Mind-Body Problem, was a critical success, and she went on to write 5 other novels, including Properties of Light, Mazel, and The Dark Sister. She has also written non-fiction studies of the mathematician Kurt Gödel, and the philosopher Baruch Spinoza.

In addition to being Rebecca’s husband, Steven Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, and one of the world’s leading authorities on language and the mind. He’s written seven books (so far) including The Blank Slate, How the Mind Works and The Stuff of Thought.

Posted on January 30, 2010 in Front Page, Ideas, Literature, Philosophy, Religion
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The Journal of Henry David Thoreau

Note: an audio version of this interview aired on WGBH radio in Boston!

Henry David Thoreau is justly famous for his book Walden, which tells the story of the two years he spent living by the pond, in the Concord woods. But he also wrote a journal, which he started at age 20 in 1837, and kept up until 1861, shortly before he died. This diary of Thoreau’s daily thoughts and experiences has just been published by New York Review Books Classics, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this autumn. Edwin Frank, the editor of the series, speaks with ThoughtCast at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

To watch a shorter version of this interview, go to the NY Review Books Classics blog  A Different Stripe!  And to read a review on Thoreau’s Journal by intellectual historian John Summers, click here!

Posted on October 30, 2009 in Literature, Philosophy
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The New York Review turns 45!

Note: this interview has been picked up by the public radio station WGBH, in Boston, and its sister stations WCAI and WNAN.

Robert Silvers (credit Melanie Flood)

The venerable New York Review of Books was launched amidst a newspaper strike in the winter of 1963, and has continued unabated ever since. Devoted to intensive and nuanced coverage of politics, the arts, literature, science (and now movies and the Internet!), the paper, as it’s called, is considered to be the premiere journal of the American intellectual elite.
Robert Silvers, its longtime editor, who shared the post with Barbara Epstein until her death in 2006, spoke with ThoughtCast in the WNYC studios in New York.

Click here: to listen (40 minutes).

Note: Scott McLemee, who writes the Intellectual Affairs column each week at Inside Higher Ed, contributed an excellent question to the interview – thanks!

Posted on December 9, 2008 in Front Page, History, Ideas, Literature, Politics
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Getrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas & Janet Malcolm!

This entry is part 3 of 10 in the series Talks@Harvard Book Store
stein-toklas

They were a strange pair: Gertrude Stein, the avant-garde writer, salonniere and collector of art and artists, and her lover and companion, the querulous Alice B. Toklas, standing beakishly in the background. But together they formed a whole. Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice, a new book by journalist Janet Malcolm, explores this relationship, and the literary output it sustained.

Click here: to listen (30 minutes) to Janet Malcolm speak about her book, at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, presented by the Harvard Book Store.

Posted on December 3, 2008 in Literature
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Reading List for Obama – your thoughts?

barackobama.com
Scott McLemee, who pens the Intellectual Affairs column for Inside Higher Ed, asked a few of us for a suggested reading list for the president-elect.

I discovered that one contributor, Daniel Drezner, is a fellow Williams alum, who blogged about the column here. Other contributors were James Marcus, the editor-at-large for the Columbia Journalism Review; Claire Potter, a professor of history and American studies at Wesleyan University; and James Mustich, editor of The Barnes & Noble Review.

And Christopher Hayes, who blogs for The Nation, picked up this thread for his Capitolism column.
Feel free to elaborate in the comments section, below.

Posted on November 7, 2008 in Literature, Politics
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How Fiction Works — with James Wood

This entry is part 9 of 10 in the series Talks@Harvard Book Store
jameswood
James Wood, the sincere, somewhat old-fashioned, unpretentious yet high-minded New Yorker literary critic, spoke at the Harvard Book Store recently about his new book, How Fiction Works.
Click here: to listen (30 minutes).
Also… ThoughtCast will be interviewing Wood shortly – hooray! – and we’re interested in your input! We’d like to discuss, among other topics, different kinds of literary creativity. What makes a great critic, rather than, say, a great novelist, or poet? What does the critic look for? How personal is the art of criticism, and how much a matter of taste – or instinct? Just how ‘creative’ is it?

Please add your thoughts in the comments section below, or email them to feedback at thoughtcast dot org!

Posted on November 2, 2008 in Harvard Luminaries, Literature
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Zen and the Art of Writing – with Natalie Goldberg

Note: This program was broadcast on WCAI, KZMU and WFIU. It also received a 5-star review on PRX!

Natalie Goldberg (self-portrait)
Natalie Goldberg, the well-known painter, writer and writing teacher, who wrote the best-seller on how to write called Writing Down the Bones, is also a Zen practitioner, who applies the lessons of Zen Buddhism to her writing, and her life.

This is a complex brew, but in this ThoughtCast interview, which took place in her home, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Natalie speaks frankly about her often painful but also at times transcendent experiences, and how she has turned these experiences into positive, life-affirming acts of self-expression — and of art.


Natalie paints her father

Natalie seeks the truth, about herself, her father (the charismatic Ben Goldberg), her Zen teacher Katagiri Roshi, and the swirling world around her. As those who know her will attest, Natalie’s quest has been a fruitful one. She’s the author of many books, including the novel, Banana Rose, and the memoirs Long Quiet Highway and The Great Failure, among many others.

Click here: to listen to our interview. (30 minutes)


El Rito, New Mexico

Natalie Goldberg is also featured in the documentary Tangled up in Bob: Searching for Bob Dylan, in which she ventures to his hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, in search of – once more – the truth. At the moment, Natalie is at work on a new book, called “Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir”, which will be published in February of 2008.

Click here: to listen to Natalie Goldberg read an excerpt (about her parents’ visit to Santa Fe) from “The Great Failure”. (4 1/2 minutes)

Posted on September 23, 2007 in Art, Literature, Religion
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Art & Science with Alan Lightman

Note: This program was broadcast on WCAI, the Cape and Islands affiliate of WGBH.

Alan Lightman
Alan Lightman, the MIT physicist and best-selling author of Einstein’s Dreams, is a man of unusual ability. Talented in both the sciences and the arts, he’s both left- and right-brained, a condition that confers challenges as well as benefits.
Lightman has recently come out with a new book which explores these two realms – and it’s called Ghost! It deals with the permeable boundary between hard science and the paranormal — and asks, where does science fail us, and what, if anything, can take its place? Does mystery take over? And can it step in where science falls short?
Click here: to listen (28:30 minutes) on ThoughtCast!

And to listen Alan Lightman on WGBH’s Forum Network, click here — and here!

Posted on August 1, 2007 in Literature, MIT, Science
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Poet Robert Pinsky takes on King David

Note: The WGBH sister stations WCAI and WNAN broadcast this interview, and it also received a 5 star review on PRX!

Robert Pinsky
Former poet laureate Robert Pinsky tackles King David of the Bible – the shepherd, poet, warrior and adulterer – in his “Life of David.”
Is David a legend? A real, flesh and blood warrior who killed Goliath, and united the 12 Jewish tribes into one nation? Robert Pinsky delves into these questions, and into David’s story, with relish.

David’s story has been told many times, and the tale has changed with each telling. There’s the David of the Hebrew Bible, and another version of his life in the Talmud. We know he slept with Bathsheba, but was this a sin? An act of love? Of violence? It depends on whom you ask.

David, who lived about 3000 years ago, was beloved of God, and as a result, he got away with more than his share. He was a seductive, wily politician, a doting father, a bitter old man. These contradictions in David’s character spur Pinsky on, and he adds his own twist to the tale, as you will hear, on ThoughtCast!
Click here: to listen (28:30 mins).
And click here to listen to a discussion with Robert Pinsky on Poetry and Democracy on the Forum Network.

Posted on March 22, 2006 in Literature, Poetry, Religion
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Virgil’s Georgics with award-winning Poet David Ferry

Note: This program was broadcast on April 8th 2007 on WGBH.

Click here to read a review of the interview on PRX.

David Ferry
Noted Cambridge poet David Ferry has recently translated Virgil’s Georgics, and on ThoughtCast he joins Virgil scholar Richard Thomas, the chair of Harvard’s Classics Dept., for a detailed examination of this beautiful and insufficiently known poem. It is said to have taken Virgil 7 years to write, from about 36 to 29 B.C.

 

Richard Thomas
As such, the Georgics was written during a period of political instability and chronic civil war, and inevitably reflects Virgil’s dark, often pessimistic outlook on human nature. But at the same time, The Georgics — which means “agriculture” in Greek — is a celebration of nature and its ceaseless beauty. As Virgil describes the cycles of crops, the seasons, the weather — the birth, death and rebirth that mark the natural world, he provides us with a complex, realistic, painful but enduringly uplifting poem.
Click here: to listen (29 minutes).


Click here
to listen to a lecture by David Ferry on “The Art and Practice of Literary Translation” on the WGBH Forum Network.

Posted on September 1, 2005 in Harvard Luminaries, History, Literature, Poetry
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Ilan Stavans: chameleon, critic

In honor of Hispanic History Month, WGBH radio, an NPR station in Boston, broadcast this ThoughtCast interview with Ilan Stavans twice. It was also picked up by KRZA, an NPR station in Alamosa, Colorado, and Georgia Public Broadcasting. And here’s a review of the program on PRX!

Ilan Stavans (Photo by Frank Ward)
Ilan Stavans, the renowned critic of Latino and Latin American literature and culture, and the author of the controversial dictionary, “Spanglish,” is also a perpetual outsider. A Mexican-Jewish-American, Ilan lives simultaneously in many cultures, while truly belonging to none. He calls himself a chameleon, and perhaps this status is just what it takes to be a true critic.
Click here: to listen (30 mins).
Click here to listen to a lecture by Ilan Stavans on “Spanglish: The New American Language” on the WGBH Forum Network.

Posted on July 20, 2005 in Literature, Politics
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Harvard Book Store author talks: David Ferry

This entry is part 1 of 10 in the series Talks@Harvard Book Store
Virgil
A Reading with David Ferry, discussing his translation of Virgil’s Georgics. This recording was made at Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, in May 2005. The paperback of Virgil’s Georgics, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, is now available.

Click here: (45 minutes) for the talk.

And you can also listen to a ThoughtCast interview with David Ferry and Richard Thomas, the chair of Harvard’s Classics Dept.

Posted on June 22, 2005 in History, Literature, Poetry
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