Virgil (Trans Fagles)
In most things of the mind, Greece beats Rome. The Greeks philosophy is better, as are its dramas, and it epic poetry. While the Aeneid is perhaps the best piece of epic poetry Rome has to offer, Virgil was no Homer and this is no Iliad. That Homer’s superiority to Virgil isn’t always universally accepted befuddles me. Yes, there are moments of brilliance here. For example the telling of the founding of Rome is much more narratively complex than I remember. And yes, it reads a bit “cleaner” than Homer – less repetition, etc. But did any of it move me like Priam begging for Hector’s body, or captivate me like Odysseus toying with the suitors?
It’s an important work, of course, and if Rome is an interest, I’m sure you’ve read it. But as literature, at least this time around, it left me a bit bored. I felt a bit let down. I’ll probably tackle it again at some point. I wonder if it will be a different book then.
Virgil, always wishing he was Homer.
Recommended for the enthusiast.
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.
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.
Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes
When I asked for a quick and dirty overview of the major Greek and Roman myths, everyone recommending this. I’m glad they did. When I started Mythology I was already half way through Hamilton’s the Greek Way, which is pretty bad, and I did not have high expectations for this one.
I was genuinely surprised with how good this was. All of the major (and minor) myths are explained here, clearly and logically with helpful introductions describing the major sources for the stories. You’ve got the interplay between the gods, the Trojan war, and the myths of the legendary houses and heroes of Ancient Greece. Its one stop shopping for classical stories.
It isn’t a scholarly work. It’s for the lay reader. But it’s exactly what you need if, say, you’re about to embark on a deep dive Homer and want to make sure you remember the lay of the land.