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Theodore Ell

Theodore Ell

Theodore Ell is an honorary lecturer in literature at ANU. He won the 2021 Calibre Essay Prize and his memoir Lebanon Days was published in July 2024.

Theodore Ell reviews ‘Stories That Want To Be Told: The Long Lede anthology’ by Arlie Alizzi et al.

July 2024, no. 466 21 June 2024
Stories That Want To Be Told is an oddly flat title for this stimulating anthology. Most of its contents are stories that need to be told. Even those that do not quite succeed in becoming more than their authors’ ‘passion projects’ are likely to leave readers better informed and more curious about little-known facets of today’s world. This is testament to the technical success of an initi ... (read more)

Theodore Ell reviews 'Empress of the Nile: The daredevil archaeologist who saved Egypt’s ancient temples from destruction' by Lynne Olson

January-February 2024, no. 461 27 August 2023
In the 1960s, as Egypt built the second Aswan Dam, the monuments of ancient Nubia, including the colossi at Abu Simbel, risked vanishing beneath a lake. Backed by UNESCO, an international coalition of archaeologists, celebrities, politicians, and engineers succeeded in moving them. Whole temples were cut off their rock bases and lifted with hydraulics, or removed in segments from cliff-faces and s ... (read more)

Theodore Ell reviews 'Tiepolo Blue' by James Cahill

September 2022, no. 446 25 August 2022
One of the dangers of academia is that ego interferes with the formation and sharing of knowledge. Colleagues are enemies, discussion is manipulation, subject matter is weaponised. British author James Cahill studied at Oxford and Cambridge, worked at a gallery in London, and recently joined King’s College London, but his first novel, Tiepolo Blue, is burdened with a feeling that these environme ... (read more)

'Tenebrae', a poem by Theodore Ell

May 2022, no. 442 23 April 2022
Nightfall on the sill. Trinkets, hardened dust. Skyin the gaps of a broken comb – the medley of towers, antennae. The city: a queuefor dinner at a swish place, or a catwalk. Thoughts of not doing an evening by halves –not dress circles or crystal filled in series, only forgetting the rule of doubt for hours,leaving morning till morning, whole vacancies.  This sill, monogrammed by wine ... (read more)

Theodore Ell reviews 'Purgatorio' by Dante Alighieri, translated by D.M. Black

April 2022, no. 441 23 March 2022
In Italy, Dante is known as il sommo poeta (‘the supreme poet’). Ironically, such reverence obscures the creative personality. We know Dante responded to the shock of being exiled from Florence in 1302 by writing a visionary poem of hell, purgatory, and paradise, in which his tormented life and feuding world were set right – but why did he do it? With little biographical evidence and no orig ... (read more)

Theodore Ell reviews 'Divining Dante' edited by Paul Munden and Nessa O’Mahony

December 2021, no. 438 24 November 2021
How would we have viewed the seven hundredth anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s death if there had been no Covid-19? The editors of Divining Dante are candid about their fears that the pandemic might narrow their celebratory anthology to poems of doom and disaster. After all, the cosmic system of Dante’s Comedy is one of the few fictional creations to match the scale and reach of the pandemic. D ... (read more)

2021 Calibre Essay Prize (Winner): 'Façades of Lebanon' by Theodore Ell

July 2021, no. 433 23 June 2021
Listen to this essay as read by the author.   As the March and April evenings grew hotter, the streets of East Beirut were as empty as our calendars. The grumble of traffic had disappeared. Without the usual smokescreen, the nearby mountains and coastline were visible for weeks. Parks are scarce in Beirut and gardens are private, but this spring, vines and bougainvillea were clambering ov ... (read more)