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2:29pm on Thursday, 26th April, 2007:



Today is the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Guernica by the Nazis during the Spanish Civil War, an event that made civilians "legitimate" targets in warfare. It occasioned great outrage, and infuriated Pablo Picasso so much that he painted his famous mural, Guernica.

I've seen this painting in real life, and am sad to say that it didn't really claw at me like it should. As with much of Picasso's later works, I find it gets stopped at the intellectual level before it reaches the emotional level. I look at a picture of a woman howling in anguish that her baby is dead, but that grabs me only about as much as the text I just wrote does — it stirs emotions, but it doesn't hit me with them — it doesn't have the same kind of impact as a more representational image would. If I were to spend several hours studying the picture and building up an image in my mind from that, then I might get at the depth of what it portrays. Just looking at it, though, I don't.

I realise that this is the problem that textual virtual worlds face in comparison with their graphical descendents. Pictures have more immediate impact, and unless you're prepared to invest time building your own mental images (which are better than the visual ones because they're personal to you) then you're going to prefer them, at least initially.

Even though I'm not a fan of Picasso's paintings, I am, however, a fan of Picasso. He is responsible for the second-coolest comeback I've ever encountered (and, given that I'm not one to use words like "cool" very often, that's actually quite something). According to the story, he was in Paris during the Nazi occupation in 1940 and, because of his political beliefs, was being harassed by members of the Gestapo. One of them visited him in his apartment, looking for evidence of anti-Nazi activity, and saw a stack of prints of Guernica on the table. He picked one up, held it up accusingly to Picasso and said, "Did you do this?". "No", said Picasso, "you did".

Amazing. Did that take guts or what?

Oh, because you're dying to know, the one comeback cooler than that is from Dienekes.


You know, Dienekes. Well, you know his comeback, anyway.

Dienekes was supposedly the bravest of the Spartans at Thermopylae. The night before the battle, he was told that the Persian bowmen fired in volleys so thick that their arrows blotted out the sun. He responded, "Good. Then we shall fight in the shade". Given that those archers were destined to kill him and the other 299 Spartans, and that he knew they would, this is just an incredible thing to say. "Cool" barely touches it.

Sorry, Picasso, but Dienekes has the edge.

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Copyright © 2007 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).