A thought on reading the Classics: more than anything, I'm underqualified. I lack the classroom, the dialogue, the history and - most of all - I lack the language. What the world knows of the original Homer (whoever under the wide earth he turned out to be, if he existed at all) comes from Greek, and fits - as epic poetry should fit - into a hexameter that is impossible to replicate in English. Sad-face here: I'll probably never be able to read the right flow of words that inspired and was kept under the pillow of men like Alexander the Great.
And then another thought on reading the Classics: it's less important, language, than story. Bunches of philosophers from the social sciences have posited that we create our own stories, narratives that we run in our head, a mythology that we evoke so that we have something to belong to, and somewhere to have come from. Okay: so I'm sitting in an over-priced cafe in a city that's probably never been influenced by ancient Greece. Less important that, and more important the fact that, reading Homer, my heart jerks that much more when I listen to Franz Ferdinand singing about Ulysses. The Classics probably aren't that great. Like Shakespeare and Horace and Austen and Barack Obama, we've probably built over and on top of them so many metropolises of history and meaning that we've lost what they meant, and gained what we mean.
SO. The Classics are one big fandom, shared by innumerable peoples and pimped in innumerable languages, with badder villains and better gods, more sex and a lot of running around.
Today's topic for slaughter: THE ODYSSEY, TRANSLATED BY ROBERT FAGLES.
Like every other book that has a) academic whoom-whoom and b) potential for misinterpretation, this version comes with a billion-page introduction, which I promptly skipped, except for the bit on pronunciation, which I read with the gleeful ignorance of the blind reading Braille that's been printed upside down.
The text itself is long, around 400 pages, and I'm about 150 pages in now. The translation is easy to read, and the dialogue sparkles like diamonds in an unlawful coal mine. Excerpt:
the bright-eyed Athena reassured him,
"some of the words you'll find within yourself,
the rest some power will inspire you to say.
You least of all - I know -
were born and reared without the gods' good will."
Mind you, here Athena is dressed up like an old veteran man and is kicking ass by dragging Telemachus, Odysseus' son, around by the nape of his neck and thrusting him forward into kingship. Cool beans.
So, some of Odysseus' life as I've read it thus far:
Helen of Sparta, wife of Menelaus: I am pretty, so pretty, so witty, and -- *twirls*
Gods: Oh, man, she is.
Paris of Troy: *wins her by some elaborate play of the gods'*
Menelaus, Helen's husband: DIE, BITCH. *starts the Trojan war*
Odysseus of Ithaca: Mmm, war!
Trojan War: *takes nine years*
Odysseus: GOING HOME TIME! *sets sail*
Odysseus' men: Oh, check it, an island. *lands boat*
Cyclops: Oh, check it, food!
Odysseus' men: Shit. *die*
Odysseus: AJLFJAKLJFL *kills the Cyclops and runs away with whoever he has left*
Poseidon: (looking at the cyclops) MY SON. *develops a hate-on for fucking Odysseus' shit up*
Odysseus: *goes through hell, including but not limited to Sirens and enchantresses and journeying to the Underworld and losing a lot of his men until there are none left*
Odysseus: *eventually gets shipwrecked on island with no one around by a beautiful, immortal nymph named Calypso who wants to sleep with him all the time*
Odysseus: THIS SUCKS.
Back in Ithaca:
Penelope, wife of Odysseus: Oh, man, bored.
5000000000000 suitors: MARRY ME.
5000000000000 suitors: While you make up your mind, we'll just be here, sittin' in your halls, eatin' all your sheep.
Telemachus, son of Odysseus: Mum, mum, this is bad.
Penelope: *stalls for time*
And up in Olympus:
Athena: Hey, dad, I think we should go down and un-fuck Odysseus up.
Athena: I'll go!
I've read too little to make any sane comment about anything, so a jotterbook of thoughts:
- Homer is amazing at repetition. Maybe because he's using poetic metre, maybe because he's a genius, maybe because his style allows for it: but constantly and all over, he re-uses descriptors and mottos, turns them on a phrase and reiterates them for comfort. It makes the poem surprisingly readable, and full of cadence.
- Though if he talks about "rosy-fingered dawn" one more time, I may have to find his grave and kill him all over again.
- Interesting times: if gods, in Greece, were meant to be as explicable and powerful as nature, then Homer has done his work. They speak with nobility, with the feeling that a mountain evokes, standing faraway and sturdy, but they act with cruelty, like snow in cold winter.
- And the gods are as fallible and rife as their human images. When the story digresses on to tell the tale of Aphrodite being discovered committing adultery with Ares, it reads:
So the gods would banter
among themselves but lord Apollo goaded Hermes on:
"Tell me, Quicksilver, giver of all good things -
even with those unwieldy shackles wrapped around you,
how would you like ot bed the golden Aphrodite?
"Oh Apollo, if only!" the giant-killer cried.
"Archer, bind me down with triple those endless chains!
Let all you gods look on, and all you goddesses too -
how I'd love to bed that golden Aphrodite!"
Now that's villainy. Not to mention Apollo and Hermes inspire bad, bad thoughts.
- Sometimes the poetry allows for some really stunning use of simplicity. It rises and falls and describes, elaborately, how much Odysseus suffers; spends entire stanzas describing his ship being dashed all to pieces and then spends another few talking about how he swims and drowns and rises again, but then comes back with just a few lines, saying:
the bright-eyed goddess sped away to Olympus, where,
they say, the gods' eternal mansion stands unmoved,
never rocked by galewinds, never drenched by rains,
nor do the drifting snows assail it, no, the clear air
stretches away withotu a cloud, and a great radiance
plays across that world where the blithe gods
live all their days in bliss. [...]
\o\ So much detail. Tasty stuff. Now, to eat dinner. Linner. Lunch.