Heraclitus Fragments

FragmentsHeraclitus

A strange and beautiful little book collecting the surviving fragments of poetic writings of Heraclitus, a pre-socratic philosopher and poet. None of the fragments collected here are complete, so it difficult to under how exactly they fit into the longer works to which they once belonged, but here, in a relatively new translation, and presented one to a page, they have a kind of mysterious and compelling beauty. I read the whole thing in one sitting and now it sits by my bedside, frequently re-read when I need a moment or two of beauty before bed.

 

Recommended.

Heraclitus

Heraclitus by Moreelse

Book Review: Miller’s Song of Achilles


The Song of Achilles
Madeline Miller

If you’ve read the Iliad (and you really should read the Iliad) you know the basic outlines of Achilles life and, if you really paid attention, you remember Patroclus, his friend and consort whose death finally brings Achilles out of his moping to wage war on the Trojans.

Miller’s book, a retelling of sorts of the life of Achilles takes as its central idea that Achilles and Patroclus were not just friends, but lovers, and she then reinterprets all the events of their lives based on this fact. In a reworking of one of the central plot points of the Iliad, for instance, Achilles isn’t upset because he lost a slave girl he wanted to rape, rather he is upset because he was protecting said slave girl (and using her as a beard of sorts).

This kind of “shipping” (to borrow a term from science fiction fan fiction) is common. Too often, it’s also poorly done. But here, Miller knows her original sources intimately (she has an MA in classics after all), and gracefully re-reads them to tell her story. I found myself not only impressed with the ingenuity of her reworking of the well known stories of the life of Achilles, but also genuinely moved by the love story she develops between Achilles and Patroclus.

A clever book, a joy to read, especially if, like me, you’re a bit obsessed with the Homeric epics.

Recommended.

Literature Reveals the World: Some Quick Thoughts on Finley’s The World of Odysseus

The World of Odysseus

M.I. Finley

A stunning work of social history which uses what we know about the historical time period which produced the Iliad and the Odyssey to help understand these two classics. We need to remember that even to homer, the events of the Iliad and Odyssey were ancient history. His codification of these myths tells us then about his time times, as well as about how his peers viewed their ancestors.

Like all literature, the Homeric myths are not just stories to pass the time, they are the means by which a culture explains itself: its morals, its family structure, its economy. Read closely, and literature reveals the world.

Finley uses archeology and anthropology, philology and the history of ideas to inform his thoughts on the world of Odysseus, but in the end, this is a book of hyper close reading. Nothing gets past his eye, not a variant in god description, nor telling bit of dialogue. All if informs is understanding of who the ancient Greeks were, why they wrote these stories, and what they’re trying to tell us. If only I were half the reader Finley was, these books reviews would be much more worth illuminating.

Very, very glad I read this right after finishing a re-read of the two classics. Finely gave nuance and new meaning to what I just read, making me think more than once, “why didn’t I see that?”
Recommended.

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Bibliography: Anne Carson

I don’t always love Anne Carson’s work. Autobiography of Red is one of my favorite books of contemporary poetry (can we call it that?) but Red Doc> was too much for me. But even when I don’t like an individual work, I love what I see to be her life’s project — connecting the classical world with the contemporary. Using the very old to build something very new. There is no one else out there like her. Here’s my idiosyncratic bibliography of her work and related resources.*

Books:

Eros the Bittersweet (1986) Princeton University Press

Glass, Irony, and God (1992) New Directions Publishing Company

Short Talks (1992) Brick Books

Plainwater (1995) Knopf

Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse (1998) Knopf

Economy of the Unlost: Reading Simonides of Ceos with Paul Celan (1999) Princeton University Press

Men in the Off Hours (2001) Knopf

Electra (translation) (2001) Oxford

The Beauty of the Husband (2001) Knopf

If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho (2002) Knopf

Wonderwater (Alice Offshore) (volume two, Answer Scars, a collaboration with Roni Horn) (2004) Steidl

Decreation: Poetry, Essays, Opera (2005) Knopf

Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides (translation) (2006) New York Review Books Classics

An Oresteia (Translation of Agamemnon, Elektra, Orestes.) (2009) Faber and Faber

NOX (2010) New Directions, incorporating Catullus 101 of Catullus

Antigonick (2012) New Directions

Red Doc> (2013) Knopf.

Iphigenia among the Taurians (translation) (2014) University of Chicago Press

Chapbooks:

The Albertine Workout (2014) New Directions

Other:

Odi et Amo Ergo Sum (1986) PhD Dissertation, University of Toronto

About Carson:

The Inscrutible Brilliance of Anne Carson, Sam Anderson — A clever, and short, profile of Carson

Anne Carson

As always, if I’ve read the book, the link goes to my review. If not, it goes to amazon or another source. Theoretically, if enough people purchase a book from one of these links, I receive a small amount of money. This rarely happens.

Euripides The Trojan Women and Other Plays

The Trojan Women and Other Plays

Euripides

The final ancient source I read for the Trojan War reading project I’m working on this year, this collects Euripides works The Trojan Women, Hecuba, and Andromache. Strangely, I’d never read any of these before. That’s what you get with a public education.

The obvious point to make about these works is that they focus on the women left behind after the fall of Rome. Hecuba, the despairing widow of Priam and mother of murdered Polyxena and Polydorus who rages against those who killed her children. Andromache, widow of Hector, conniving to save her remaining children in the play of her name. And both these women, as well as forlorned Helen, in the Trojan Women, trying to survive in a world that has destroyed their families.

Its dark stuff — humorless stuff. Greek heroes are cruel (Odysseus, in particular appears heartless) and the fate of these women is, well, tragic. It doesn’t make for easy reading, but it’s a useful counterpoint to the heroism of the battle in the Illiad.

Recommended.

Hecuba Blinding Polymestor by Giuseppe Maria Crespi

A Magical Adventure for Some; a Tale of Return and Venegence for Others: Homer’s The Odyssey

The Odyssey

Homer (trans. Robert Fagles)

The story of the heroes return from the war.  The story of a son in search of his father. The story of a woman using her guile to ward off her suitors and wait for the return of her love. The story of a man through intelligence and strength, defeating his enemies and returning his family to calm.

These plot lines are the true heart of the Odyssey, and to this old man, what gives the poem its power. Odysseus is both honorable and unethical, hell bent on returning home, willing to do whatever it takes to get there. Telemachus is young, impressionable, desperate to make a name of himself. Penelope is incredible, perhaps the only person in the poem about whom one cannot say a bad word. When they finally reunite, vengeance is brought down on those who tried to destroy their family. It isn’t complicated stuff. It is elemental. It still moves.

Of course there is also the cyclops, the sirens, and Gods intervening left and right. A young me was drawn in by these magical elements, but today it’s the through line of the man trying to return to his family, and his family trying to cope with his absence that resonates with me.
Perhaps this is why we’re still reading Homer, still translating him for new audiences, each book contains multiple readings (a magical tale of adventure for some, a dark homecoming tale of revenge for others) looking forward to what will come to the fore when I read it again someday.

Recommended.

Odysseus taking it to the suitors

Quick note: As with my most recent reading of the Iliad, I read this in the Fagel’s translation. I found the language direct, and powerful and would recommend this one over the Lattimore I previously read.

A Foundational Text of our Fucked Up World — My Quick Thoughts on Homer’s the Iliad

The Iliad

Homer (trans. Fagles)

It’s hard to believe that the first time I read the Iliad, I didn’t enjoy. I was in my youth more of an Odyssey guy. That seems insane now. Sure, the first time was in undergrad reading under deadline. It was also the Lattimore edition, well loved by many, but in my opinion greatly inferior to this Fagles edition. And I was younger, and perhaps, in my abhorrence of war, failed to appreciate how straight up gorgeous this poem can be.

Whatever the reasons, at the time I thought of the Iliad as a long poem of fighting without much of interest. I was wrong. It incredible and I’d argue today, greater than its companion, the Odyssey.

As with all classics, it seems silly to write a short review on a vanity website about why it is so important, but I’ll forge ahead all the same.

In this translation, the Iliad is a poem of war, no doubt, but its depiction of it is complex. War is celebrated for the honor it can bring its combatants, for how it strips the world down the essentials of life and death, and for how it decides the history of our families, and our communities. It is without doubt, glorified here.

But its horrors are not overlooked. Hector knows his son will soon by fatherless; Hecuba knows her son is to die. Homer, through Fagles, doesn’t shy aware from the physical horror of war either. Throats are torn out, bodies are ripped to pieces, and brave men die horribly. Perhaps one could read this as audience pleasing gore, but I didn’t. To my reading, it’s the opposite, it reminds you that while these men and women believed war brought honor, it was also a bloody, awful, business.

In addition to the battle scenes, there are moments of quiet humanity. Priam begging for Hector’s body, Achilles’ mourning Patroclus (even if like me you’re sick of that overgrown man child). heroes are complex, not likeable, and human.

There is much that is repugnant about the book of course, slaves are traded for honors, women are clearly second class, and average people die so their lords may have glory. All that is reprehensible, but to my mind, grappling with it is part of what makes this book what it is — a foundational text of our fucked up world.

One more quick note on this edition: Fagles is a master. The language is immediate, accessible and gorgeous.  The introduction is informative for a novice like me. If you’re going to read this (and you should), read this translation.

Recommended.

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