Tag Archives: art

Symbolism in Silent Heroes, the Story behind it via @PatFurstenberg #symbolism #fiction #history #writerslife

I still remember attending my first lecture on symbolism . My own studies were as far from literature and art as the moon is from the man who occupies it.

I was studying medical dentistry when a friend and I went to the University of History and Art to attend a lecture on symbolism in art. It was late one evening when we opened the massive door leading to a cosmic-size amphitheater packed with excited faces.

Happiness can be found anywhere. Sometimes you just need to search harder or ask for someone to help you discover it. A US Marine, his MWD, military working dog and Afghan boys.
Happiness can be found anywhere. Sometimes you just need to search harder or ask for someone to help you discover it. A US Marine, his MWD, military working dog and Afghan boys.

Used to look at dead bodies laying on an autopsy table, to squint inside them while trying to discern the shriveled femoral nerve from the already gray artery, I was struck by the excitement short-circuiting everyone attending the lecture and the amount of information hidden in plain view, underneath layers of colorful paint.

I was hooked and, although I may not have earned a degree in art, the keen interest in symbolism has sipped into my pores for good.

Symbology - 'In God we Trust'.  (Army Photographic Competition 2012 - Pro Portfolio winner; Photo by SSgt Nesbit RLC/MoD/Mandatory Credit Crown Copyright via Getty Images)
‘In God we Trust’. (Army Photographic Competition 2012 – Pro Portfolio winner; Photo by SSgt Nesbit RLC/MoD/Mandatory Credit Crown Copyright via Getty Images) These include a simple disk with a cross cut out which he wore with his identity (Dog) tags, and an American coin dated 1988, the year of his birth. The soldier who wanted to remain unidentified carried these with him all the time whilst he served in Afghanistan on Operation Herrick 15 for luck.

Was symbolism introduced in “Silent Heroes” intentionally?

On writing “Silent Heroes” I did not plan to include symbolism. It wasn’t a voluntary act, like research had been, or plotting the outline of the story, building my characters. Including symbolical elements was a work of my sly subconscious mind. It’s been the work of my cerebellum, you can say. Anatomy having its own play over art.

I do not expect readers to pick up on the symbolism used or to interpret it in the same way. I think this is very much connected to how our minds are wired. Some of us see things that others don’t, because they are not important to them. I does not mean that the first group hallucinates, or that the second group is inattentive.

The Purple Sunbird, (Cinnyris asiaticus) is found in the dry zone from the Arabian Peninsula into Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan until the dry zone of Rajasthan and Gujarat.
The Purple Sunbird, (Cinnyris asiaticus) is found in the dry zone from the Arabian Peninsula into Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan until the dry zone of Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Has symbolism in “Silent Heroes” been consciously manipulated at any stage during the writing process?

Now, this would imply that, at some stage during the writing of “Silent Heroes“, I picked up on some symbols introduced in the story-line. Which I did. Once I became conscious of the implications these symbolism will have on the narrative, I kept developing that thread. I did not removed it, since it was introduced organically and not voluntarily.

I felt that if I will remove the symbols, the story will be less rich, the characters, at least some of them, will lose their credibility. And myself, as a writer, will lose the passion for the telling of the story of these “Silent Heroes“, passion that had fueled me for over two years.

A book thrown in the dust.
A book thrown in the dust.

Can other symbols be discovered in “Silent Heroes”?

Other symbols, besides the ones my subconscious mind placed and my conscious mind picked up? I believe so, as I trust the reader’s creative minds as well as the connection I hope they will establish this book.

Lady Tulip - Tulipa clusiana From Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and the western Himalayas
Lady Tulip – Tulipa clusiana From Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and the western Himalayas

Is symbolism for real?

Is air real? Is the language we speak real? Is the sky blue? Humans have a innate ability and desire for creating things out of nothing. Buildings out of dust, worlds out of words, art out of dreams.

And humans also need to communicate. Writers communicate through their books. Language itself is a symbolic form of communication. Symbols used by artists, and therefore by writers, are placed – subconsciously or not – to help channel the results of their work. The end product. Much like a painter creating a portrait, an architect, a building that lasts, writers stir their stories using symbols, where appropriate.

The journey a writer takes when creating a book is anchored in his dreams and imagination, but it is stirred by the hidden symbolism which is also a product of his own mind.

A gardener and his garden in Afghanistan. Afghans are avid garners.
A gardener and his garden in Afghanistan. Afghans are avid garners.

Images of symbolism in “Silent Heroes” *****SPOILER ALERT*****

Without spoiling the plot, I will list a few of the symbols I unconsciously introduced in my latest work of fiction “Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for”.

An Afghan butterfly on a soldier's sleeve.
An Afghan butterfly on a soldier’s sleeve.

You do not have to read past this point if you have not read “Silent Heroes” yet. You can have a sneak peek here.

You could skip the very short, last paragraph, and return to it after reading “Silent Heroes”.

Silent Heroes, When Love and Faith Are Worth Fighting for
Silent Heroes, When Love and Faith Are Worth Fighting for

Some of the symbols found in “Silent Heroes” are:

Qala-e-Bost Fortress, Afghanistan
Qala-e-Bost, Afghansitan

The blue bird.

The book in the dust.

Qala-e-Bost Fortress.

Poppy flowers.

The Afghan garden.

What do they symbolize?

I suggest you don’t go past this point if you haven’t read “Silent Heroes” yet. First read the book, then return and see if your thoughts and mine converge.

Symbolism in Silent Heroes
Symbolism in Silent Heroes

To me, the blue bird symbolizes the spirit of Emma’s mother, as well as hope in another chance for happiness. A reminder that hope exists, no matter what situation we find ourselves in.

The book in the dust symbolizes the disrespect for human life and human wrights. Books are a well of wisdom and the product of hard, assiduous work. They don’t belong in the dirt, just like human life does not.

Qala-e-Bost Fortress symbolizes the upright spirit of the Afghan people, still standing after centuries of wars and oppression. And just like the people of Afghanistan, through its architecture, it is deeply rooted in its land, drawing strength from it.

Poppy flowers are both a symbol of the blood spilled in Afghanistan and of the never-ending struggle for survival of the Afghan people. Poppies are extremely resilient, they can grow under harsh weather conditions, although they look so fragile. But poppies are also deadly plants in the sense that farming them caught so many innocent souls in the loop of poverty and addiction.

The Afghan Garden symbolizes Heaven and hope in a land devastated by wars. Just as Heaven transcends all spirits and gods, being present in all religions, all people, no matter of their religion, sex or skin color, are equal in the eyes of God.

Have you discovered other symbols after reading “Silent Heroes“? Tell me about them, I’d love to hear from you.

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

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Dogs, Man’s Best Friend, as Illustrated by Art, From Once Upon a Time to the 20th Century via @patfurstenberg #dogs #art #history

The old claim that a dog is one’s best friend is validated through historical records, be it art, folklore or books. Yet it requires no proof to anyone lucky enough to enjoy the company of a dog in modern day’s society. The stories and the inspiration behind art such as this is what fuels my writing.

I invite you to travel with me through a fast-paced, awe-inspiring journey from the past’s “once upon a time” to the 20th century illustrating the human-dog bond.

More to come in the following weeks on the astounding role dogs, these silent heroes, played during the Great War, World War II, the Vietnam Wat, and the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as what it takes to become a Military Working Dog.

How dogs helped the human brain to evolve

There isn’t a shadow of a doubt that, at some stage during their passing on this planet, humans decided to domesticate wolves (the grey wolf). Why they did it, choosing a breed they will have to compete against for food, is mysterious enough to feed the imagination of many writers.

How dogs helped the human brain to evolve
How dogs helped the human brain to evolve . Source ancestry

Perhaps domesticating the cunning foxes failed or it was the super-olfactory ability of dogs that triggered the human determination. Or was it all a coincidence? Theories speak of more than one time when human attempted to domesticate dogs, starting as far as 20 000 – 32 000 years ago.
What is certain is that the canines evolutionary journey from wolves to dogs happened simultaneously with the human’s development of speech (about 150 000 years ago). The time when our ancestors’ acute olfactory capabilities began to diminish, their brain accommodating the extra neural synapses and cortex area dedicated to verbal communication.No wonder that dogs , with their super-olfactory ability, looked, all of a sudden, so much more appealing to have as companions. Not mentioning the cuteness of their puppies.

Footprints in the Chauvet Cave: a child and his dog

Chauvet Cave located in the southern France is renowned as the site of some of the world’s oldest mural paintings, and not only.
At the back of the cave the soil and rock have preserved the footprints of a small child (estimated at about 1,4 m height and 8-10 years old) walking beside a dog. The trace is 45 meters long, enough for scientists to analyze and conclude that the child was walking and not running. What is amazing is that the prints he left show that at some stage the child slipped in the soft clay and that at some stage he stopped to clean his torch (proven by the stain of charcoal left behind).
Alongside the child’s footprints are those of a large dog or a wolf friend.

Chauvet Cave: human child and dog footprints 26 000 years old
Chauvet Cave: human child and dog footprints 26 000 years old

Dogs in Mesopotamia: The Epic of Gilgamesh

I still remember learning n school about oldest piece of epic world literature, written c. 2150 – 1400 BCE – that is 1500 years before Homer even put pen on paper.

It explores a theme as old as humankind, he quest for the meaning of life.

Dogs are mentioned and shown their importance in everyday life: they are the companions of one of the most popular goddesses of the region, the goddess Innana (Ishtar). She travels with seven prized hunting dogs in collar and leash.

Innana (Ishtar) and one of her seven dogs - source wikipedia
Innana (Ishtar) and one of her seven dogs – source Wikipedia

Dogs in Mahabharata, the longest epic poem ever written

Also from school (who would have thought?) I remember the Mahabharata as being one of the most important texts of ancient Indian and world literature.

Written 400 BCE the Mahabharata features a dog that might have been an Indian Pariah Dog.

“The dog must come with me,” said Yudhisthira
“That is not possible,” said Indra. “All cannot attain heaven. The dog is old and thin and has no value.”
“In that case, I do not seek heaven, “replied Yudhisthira. “The dog was my faithful companion and I cannot abandon it. It sought my help and gave me unconditional love. The pleasures of heaven will mean nothing to me in comparison to its grief. It has done nothing to deserve abandonment and had none of the weaknesses of my wife and brothers. If it does not deserve to go to heaven, then neither do I.

Mahabharata
Yudhisthira with a dog as a chariot from Heaven arrives - source Wikimedia
Yudhisthira with a dog as a chariot from Heaven arrives – source Wikimedia

More proof that dogs have been part of human life before they were even mentioned in written is depicted by art. Plenty of canines decorations are found in temples, mosaics, artifacts, paintings from all over the world.

The Colima Dog

One of the first tangible proofs of human-dog interaction is the Colima Dog, West Mexico, dating to the Late Formative Period (300 BC-300 AD).
Art often represented themes important to the culture: weddings, children’s births, and royal feasts.
Made of terracotta (earth) clay burned in an oven, the Colima Dog shows a hairless dogs symbolizing both life and death themes, through its association with the places where he was found, near food (grains) remains and graves.

Colima Dog -a pot-bellied dog figurine from Mexico, State of Colima, 300 BC - 300 AD, ceramic - image source Wikimedia Commons
Colima Dog -a pot-bellied dog figurine from Mexico, State of Colima, 300 BC – 300 AD, ceramic – image source Wikimedia Commons

Dogs in antiquity: China

I feel I should mention dogs in ancient China because modern dog’s DNA analysis shows that all present dog breeds stem from the grey wolf in China that was tamed around 16 000 years ago. At the same time wild rice was used extensively, agriculture developed and first villages appeared.
Furthermore, the Chinese honored the dogs for thousands of years. Remember that Dog is one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. People born under this sign are said to be loyal, trustworthy, and kind, qualities often associated with the dog.
There is a lovely Chinese saying translating in:

‘a dog would not mind if its master is poor, a son would not mind if his mother is ugly.’

Chinese proverb

Let’s skip past sacrifices and dogs as a food source.

The Dog from Pompeii

Pompeii was an ancient Roman city near modern-day Naples, in Campania, Southern Italy. It became renowned after Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, burying the city and its inhabitants in 4 to 6m of ash and pumice. Today Pompeii is a precious, well-preserved archeological site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A dog mosaic was found in “The House of the Tragic Poet” – proof of the Pompeian love and appreciation for canines.

Pompeii -The House of the Tragic Poet - dog mosaic - source Wikipedia
Pompeii -The House of the Tragic Poet – dog mosaic – source Wikipedia

“CAVE CANEM” = BEWARE OF THE DOG

A Roman dog footprint, a Greek pot and a dog cameo

I particularly love this dog footprint on a Roman terracotta, next to a statuette of a dog displayed in Vidy Roman Museum, Lausanne, Switzerland. I think it depicts the human’s affection and longing towards his departed dog.

Dog footprint on a Roman terracotta, next to a statuette of a dog – source Wikipedia

This typical Leagros Group artwork of the 6th century Greek art is striking. And it depicts the close relationship between men, dogs and horses. So much is said with the use of only a few colors.

Riders and dogs, art by Leagros Group, Louvre. Source Wikipedia
Riders and dogs, art by Leagros Group, Louvre. Source Wikipedia

In the Georgian National Museum there is this Roman cameo of a dog. It looks like it is carved in stone with an oval frame hand made out of ceramic and, perhaps, sealed with gold. I love the dog’s playful pose. It tells of his comfortable life. Romans appreciated the dogs for their fidelity. I wonder if the woman wearing this cameo led a happy life.

Did you know that the Greeks were the first to carve stone in relief, in fifth century B.C., the antecedents of cameos? The carving principles they implemented are still in use today.

A Roman cameo of a dog - source Wikimedia
A Roman cameo of a dog – source Wikimedia

Dogs frolicking in The Wedding Feast at Cana

Fast forward to the 16th century and I want to mention The Wedding Feast at Cana (1563), by the Italian artist Paolo Veronese because I got to see it with my own eyes.

The Wedding Feast at Cana (1563), by the Italian artist Paolo Veronese - and some very happy dogs. Source Wikimedia
The Wedding Feast at Cana (1563), by the Italian artist Paolo Veronese – and some very happy dogs. Source Wikimedia

Don’t be out off by its size (70 m², taking Veronese 15 months to paint it – and not alone). It tells a beautiful biblical story of the Marriage at Cana, at which Jesus converts water to wine. Plus there are dogs painted right in the center (it is said the painter himself is the one in white, holding the viola)

The Wedding Feast at Cana. Veronese in white, holding the viola and the two central dogs.
The Wedding Feast at Cana. Veronese in white, holding the viola and the two central dogs.

and one other dog is in the left.

The Wedding Feast at Cana - the dog in the left side.
The Wedding Feast at Cana – the dog in the left side

Notice how Jesus is placed in the center of the wedding feast? The bride and groom are at the left end of the table. Jesus performed his first miracle at Cana, turning water into wine.

Finally, a 16th century book on dogs!

“Lawes of the Forrest” by John Manwood is a book with a full 141 words title. The book was first published for private circulation in 1592. The 1598 edition is the oldest book in the library of London’s Kennel Club—the “biggest library of books about dogs” in Europe.

Book-Illustration of a dog from George Turbervile 1576 Booke of Hunting. Google Books Public Domain
Book-Illustration of a dog from George Turbervile 1576 Booke of Hunting. Google Books Public Domain

Apparently during the 16th century was easier to keep “little dogs”. For greyhounds or mastiffs one needed special hunting license issued by the king! Talk about bureaucracy.

The 1598 edition of John Manwood’s Lawes of the Forrest - about rules of keeping dogs. Source abebooks
The 1598 edition of John Manwood’s Lawes of the Forrest – about rules of keeping dogs. Source abebooks

Gaugan’s puppies and Dogs Playing Poker

We’ll sail past the 19th century “Life with Three Puppies” by Paul Gauguin, inspired by Japanese prints and children’s book illustrations. Just look at those tails!

“Life with Three Puppies” by Paul Gauguin
Life with Three Puppies” by Paul Gauguin

I hope you will have a good laugh at this American artwork that came shortly after Gaugain’s: “Dogs Playing Poker” by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, 19th to 20th century. Dogs do observe human faces and often copy us – any dog lover knows.

“Dogs Playing Poker” by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge
Dogs Playing Poker” by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge

While other pets and animals have undergone substantial changes in the way they are perceived throughout history dogs have endured the marks of wars and joys alongside humans, as constant companions, protectors and, of course, friends, as we have seen portrayed by the art of various cultures around the world.

I hope you will return to find out more about the way dogs and humans have faced together the many wars of the 20th and the 21st century.

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

My latest book is ‘Silent Heroes’, a highly emotional read, action-packed, a vivid story of enormous sacrifice and bravery that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It is a book extremely well researched, with authentic details and an epic sense of the place. The war and the military involved, Marines and dogs, are described with reverence, as are the civilians caught in the middle of the fire.

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