War and Peace really has to be one of the very best novels ever written! It has to be in my top-five favorite books too. This was the third time thatWar and Peace really has to be one of the very best novels ever written! It has to be in my top-five favorite books too. This was the third time that I have read this wonderful book, and I really enjoyed it ever so much this last time; I savored every word and sentence. You can't help but become swept up in the characters and the stream of history that goes by during the ten years or so that War and Peace encompasses. I really don't understand what scares off so many people from reading this novel. In fact, I didn't want it to end - as though I wanted to see how the characters lived out the rest of their lives. Read this book!...more
This was incredible! First of all, the story was told in the spare, sparse, and gritty language of Seamus Heaney's bilingual translation of the Anglo-This was incredible! First of all, the story was told in the spare, sparse, and gritty language of Seamus Heaney's bilingual translation of the Anglo-Saxon original. Second, the plot of this elegiac poem was absolutely epic. The horror of Grendel and his Dam was palpable; and the heroism of Beowulf and his spear-fellows timeless. Finally, the ability to carefully study Heaney's translation, alliteration, and interpretation and then compare it to the Anglo-Saxon was almost surrealistic. It was an amazing experience to have the ability to look at and study the root language of modern English.
My younger brother recommended the Heaney translation to me, and now I know why. This has become a poem I intend to visit, and revisit, many, many times in the years to come. From the perspective of my personal enjoyment of poetry, reading Beowulf has been transformative. Reading Beowulf has led me to go back and reinvestigate the ancient Icelandic poetry of the Poetic Edda (or "Elder Edda"), including the Volsungasaga. From epics like Beowulf and the Poetic Edda, it is abundantly clear what a profound influence these early writings have had on the literature of the English language.
In conclusion, I cannot believe that it has taken me this long to actually sit down and read this beautiful poem. All I can say is "Bravo!" "Bravo!" to the original eighth or ninth century poet, and to Seamus Heaney for his beautiful new presentation of this early treasure of the English language....more
I have just finished reading four different translations of Sophocles' classic tragedy Antigone, which was chronologically the first of his three greaI have just finished reading four different translations of Sophocles' classic tragedy Antigone, which was chronologically the first of his three great 'Theban Plays.' The other two, in the order written, include, Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus. Antigone is thought to have been written around 441 BCE. I thought it might be interesting to briefly compare and contrast the four very different translations that I read. As is to be expected, each had strengths and weaknesses. At least you'll get a sense of what the various translations are like; and if you are a high school English teacher this might even be a helpful review.
First though, it is probably worth just giving a thumbnail sketch of the plot of the play. Antigone, Ismene, Polyneices, and Eteocles are the adult children of the accidentally incestuous marriage of Oedipus and his mother Jocasta. The story of Oedipus and Jocasta is told in Sophocles' other two 'Theban' plays (mentioned above). Also, if you have never read Antigone, and are worried about 'Spoilers,' you may just want to scroll down to the bottom and look at the comparisons between the four versions, and skip the next five paragraphs (i.e., those between the ***).
In Antigone, we find the two sisters, Antigone and Ismene, together in the Greek city of Thebes where a great battle has just concluded, and both of their brothers have been killed. In fact, Polyneices and Eteocles have killed each other in single combat; with Polyneices fighting on the side of the Argive army attacking Thebes and its defenders, including his brother Eteocles. The new king of Thebes, Creon, is their uncle (their mother, Jocasta's brother). While Creon orders full military honors and funeral rites for the slain Eteocles, he issues an edict that the sisters' brother's body, Polyneices, be left to rot and be eaten by scavengers. This harsh order profoundly offends Antigone's sense of family honor, and it completely runs afoul of the wishes of the gods that all dead are treated with respect and buried with appropriate honor and dignity. Creon further adds that if anyone attempts to bury the dead man that they will be immediately executed.
Antigone asks her sister to go out on the battlefield and give their slain brother's body its proper funeral rites. Ismene, however, is afraid of violating Creon's orders and refuses to help. Antigone is appalled at her sister's weakness, and goes out by herself. She finds her brother's body, purifies it, and covers it with earth to protect it from the scavengers--all done in direct defiance of Creon's edict. The covered body is discovered by Creon's sentries, and is re-exposed to the elements. The disobedience is reported to Creon as well, who is enraged that someone would disobey his direct orders. Of course, Antigone is then caught attempting to rebury her brother's body, and is brought before the king.
The dialog between Antigone, Creon, and the Chorus is truly amazing and quite powerful. It is the classic example of someone standing up and doing the morally correct thing, and knowing full well that what they do may cost them their life. This represents the power of the individual against that of the State. In fact, early on in the play in an example of imperial hubris, Creon utters a statement that we seem to hear from our political leaders time and time again--"And he who cherishes an individual beyond his homeland,/he, I say, is nothing." Antigone stands up to Creon by simply stating that her honor, and the honor of her family, compelled her to do what she had done, and that it was also the law of the gods. Creon says that she must pay the ultimate price for her "treachery" as he puts it. He sentences her to death, and that she must be walled up inside of a tomb.
At this point the Chorus, comprised of Theban elders begins to doubt the wisdom of Creon's actions against Antigone. On top of that, Haemon, Creon's son comes in and begs his father not to kill Antigone. Haemon loves her and wishes to marry her. More importantly, Haemon also believes that what Antigone has done for her slain brother is only right and proper. He tells his father that even the citizens of Thebes believe that Antigone has simply upheld her family honor, and has committed no crime and should be spared. Creon cares not for the opinions of the citizens and does not relent. He orders Antigone to be taken away.
Later the blind 'seer,' Tiresias comes and chastises Creon for his hubris and arrogance, and ultimately convinces Creon that his edict was wrong-headed. Creon accepts this verdict and orders the release of Antigone. But it is too late! When Creon and his guards arrive at the tomb, they find that Antigone has hanged herself, and that Creon's son, Haemon is in the process of committing suicide to be with her in the Land of the Dead. Unfortunately, it only gets worse for Creon. Upon returning to his palace in Thebes, he finds that his wife, Eurydice, has killed herself over the suicide of her son, as well as the death of her older son in the recent battle--both deaths she lays at the feet of her husband, Creon. The Chorus has the last word--
"The mighty words of the proud are paid in full with mighty blows of fate, and at long last those blows will teach us wisdom."
Okay, here are the four different translations that I read. I have to say that they are all quite good; and while the plot is obviously the same, there are subtle differences in meter, lyricism, tempo, and use of contemporary language.
1. The first version I read was in an edition entitled Sophocles I from the University of Chicago Press (1991), and the translation was authored by David Grene. This was very solidly done and quite poetic. It also comes with the other two "Theban" plays, referenced above.
2. The second version I read was from the "The Greek Tragedy in New Translations" series entitled, Antigone, from the Oxford University Press. This 1973 translation was prepared by Richard Emil Braun, and was also very well done. Like Grene's translation (No. 1), seemed to emphasize an adherence to a classical interpretation and felt rather scholarly.
3. The most modern and intriguing rendition was the one prepared by the Irish poet, Seamus Heaney in 2004. Heaney's version is entitled The Burial at Thebes. I found this to be a fresh, fast-paced, and a very poetic and lyrical modern translation. Heaney also incorporated an interesting structure in the poem, and uses a meter of three-beats per line for the dialogs of Antigone and Ismene, four-beat lines for the Chorus (similar to the old Anglo-Saxon of his Beowulf translation), and then iambic pentameter for Creon. Cool, huh?
4. My favorite translation of Antigone was that of Robert Fagles in the Penguin Classics edition entitled, The Three Theban Plays (1984). This edition includes the two 'Oedipus' plays and the Antigone, and was nominated for a National Book Award. I really enjoy Mr. Fagles' translations, as they truly seem to feel classical, but are very understandable. I truly enjoyed his translations of The Iliad (my review is on GR too) and The Oresteia; and this translation of Antigone is just as majestic and lyrical. I highly recommend the Fagles' translations of any of these enduring classics.
So, there you are--a quick review of four different versions of Sophocles' Antigone. This is an important play to read and ponder. The moral message put forth in the play illustrates a dilemma that just about each of us probably encounters at least once over the course of our lives. What the Antigone teaches us is that it is the choice of an individual to stand up and be faithful to a code of ethics, with honor, integrity and personal responsibility in the face of external pressures, sometimes forcibly applied, from others advocating a different, but immoral course of action. This is important stuff today, just as it was in Sophocles' time....more
I recently read Homer's The Iliad and loved it. I figured that the smart thing to do was to go ahead and just follow it up with a reading of Robert FaI recently read Homer's The Iliad and loved it. I figured that the smart thing to do was to go ahead and just follow it up with a reading of Robert Fagles's 1996 translation of The Odyssey.
Robert Fagles's translation is a modern and contemporary, yet extraordinarily lyrical, translation that just seems to preserve the classical feel of Homer, i.e., it begs to be read aloud. This puts the reader squarely in the midst of the Homeric oral tradition of the itinerant bard and the hexameter verse structure of this ancient epic poem. Fagles has masterfully brought this feeling to his English translation.
The Odyssey is a nearly three-thousand year old 12,000 line poem that tells the tale of the Greek warrior, Odysseus, and his return from Asia-Minor following the sack of Troy. While it took the Achaean army ten years to defeat Troy, it takes Odysseus ten more years to return home to his island kingdom of Ithaka. Suffice it to say that Odysseus has nearly every adventure that you're likely to imagine, and then some, during his journey before he reaches his home. This is a rollicking good read with loads of action-packed hand-to-hand combat, scary monsters, femme fatales, and damsels in distress.
Intermingled with the story of Odysseus's macho-man Mediterranean cruise is the concurrent tale of his patient, but suffering, wife, Penelope, holding down the fort on Ithaka. She is not only trying to raise their surly teen-aged son, Telemakus, but simultaneously fending off the less than honorable advances of the hordes of suitors who now assume that Odysseus is dead and want to take over his kingdom (and wife).
Meanwhile, during the course of all of his mad-cap adventures, Odysseus is called upon to use every ounce of his guile and inventiveness to outwit his foes and safely return to Ithaka to his wife and son and the host of suitors pursuing Penelope and looking to supplant him. And deal with them he does. Near the end of the poem Odysseus and Telemakus go on a premeditated spree of horrific violence and slaughter all of Penelope's dastardly suitors and her twelve palace maids. It ain't pretty, folks; nope, not at all. This is bloody in-your-face killing Homeric style, and a lot like today's video games.
Reading The Odyssey will not only keep you enthralled from the first page to the last--and it is an amazing travelogue after all--but it will cause you to dip into your Bullfinch's or Hamilton's mythology too. Reading The Odyssey is quite like peeling an onion--layer after layer--one story leading to the discovery of another related myth.
If you haven't read Homer's great epic, The Odyssey, I simply can't recommend it enough. I do strongly suggest reading The Iliad first though. They go together, like hand-in-glove. I also strongly recommend reading the translations of Robert Fagles of both of these classic epic poems. I recently read Richmond Lattimore's translations; and while very beautifully done, I truly believe that the Fagles translations are the renditions for our time. For The Odyssey, I award five stars out of five, a genuine classic.
One final thought. If you enjoyed The Odyssey, I would like to recommend that you go and find Margaret Atwood's marvelous novella, The Penelopiad. This little book looks at The Odyssey from the perspective of Odysseus's wife, Penelope, as she must manage their island kingdom of Ithaka. A quick read and delightfully entertaining, Atwood's book is well worth picking up....more
This review of The Iliad is associated with the translation by Robert Fagles (1990)--
"Homer makes us Hearers, and Virgil leaves us Readers." So wroteThis review of The Iliad is associated with the translation by Robert Fagles (1990)--
"Homer makes us Hearers, and Virgil leaves us Readers." So wrote Alexander Pope, in 1715, in the preface to his translation of The Iliad.
I have just completed reading a magnificent translation of Homer's The Iliad, and couldn't have enjoyed the experience more. I had read bits and pieces of The Iliad over the course of my life, but I had never read the entire poem from start to finish. I recently purchased the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of a translation by Robert Fagles that was completed in 1990. While I am not qualified to compare or judge the work of one translator versus that of another, I can say that I truly enjoyed Fagles' lyrical translation that largely maintains the hexameter verse structure (i.e., six beats per line) of the original Greek texts. For a six-hundred page, 16,000-line poem, it was eminently readable, and a darn good story too!
Simply put, The Iliad is the story of the last year of the ten-year long Trojan War, long thought to have been fought between the Achaean (Greek) forces and the Trojans in the 12th or 11th century BCE. The Iliad is thought to be about 2,700 years old and is, in essence, a transcript of an epic poem in dactylic hexameter verse that was originally shared via an oral or bardic tradition. As I was reading the poem, I couldn't help but stop and imagine a traveling story-teller stopping in a small village, and standing in the village square next to a bonfire at night and recounting this tale to a rapt and wide-eyed audience.
In some respects, The Iliad could have been easily titled "The Rage of Achilles" (and indeed, that is the title of Book One). The poem opens with Achilles, and it essentially concludes with Achilles. In between is recounted the tales of the battles of egos among the primary characters and among most, if not all, of the gods on Mount Olympus. For example, the Achaean leader, Agamemnon, and the Pan-Achaean army's greatest warrior, Achilles, clearly don't like one another; and this initially leads to significant problems for the Achaeans as they battle Hector and his Trojan battalions. Similarly, on the Trojan side, Hector doesn't think much of his younger brother, the "magnificent" Paris (a simpering dilettante).
Unfortunately, for the Greeks, because of his ongoing issues with Agamemnon, Achilles sits on the beach with his 2,500 Myrmidon soldiers for much of the poem, and doesn't enter the fray until his best friend, Patroclus, is killed in combat with Hector. Once Achilles commits to the fight though he becomes the true definition of a 'berserker,' and is clearly the indomitable and heroic warrior; although I have to say that Diomedes and Great Ajax are pretty darned impressive fighters too!
I very much enjoyed how the poem wove in the politics and actions of the gods and goddesses as they continually intervened and influenced the human protagonists during the course of the tale. Some of the gods side with the Achaeans (e.g., Hera, Athena, Poseidon, Thetis, etc.), and others with the Trojans (e.g., Ares, Apollo, Aphrodite, etc.), with Zeus paternally watching over them all.
The poem also makes quite the point of describing the hubris, selfishness, deceit, and the treachery behavior exhibited by both mortals and immortals alike. While the poem assigns the blame for the Trojan War on Paris' abduction of Menelaus' wife, Helen (i.e., "the face that launched a thousand ships"), I happen to think the poem also implies that the war was fought because of prideful stubbornness on both sides; and one has to ponder if Achilles' withdrawal from the fighting is more of a reflection on his perception of Agamemnon as a military leader, and whether fighting the Trojans was, in fact, the morally or honorable right thing to do. Also, from a historical perspective, I have to wonder if the Trojan War really wasn't the result of a Pan-Achaean desire to expand its hegemony for simple economic reasons--i.e., to control the trade routes through the Aegean Sea and the Bosporus Straits. Anyway, it really doesn't matter, it was simply grand to read the poem and to be completely swept up in the drama and passion of it all.
I must caution readers that The Iliad contains some of the most savage, intense, and vivid combat imagery that I have ever encountered in literature. This ain't your typical 'So-and-so slew So-and-so' nondescript poetic characterization. Oh no, this is gory, explicit, and very descriptive writing (the Greek word for this type of description is androktasia = combat death description) that tells precisely where the great bronze spearhead struck some poor fellow, and then what it did to his body, face, or internal organs. After one reads The Iliad, one realizes that hand-to-hand combat and butchery with spears, swords, bows and arrows, chariots, and rocks and clubs is a very personal business, messy and very, very dangerous.
I suppose that one's experience with reading The Iliad is influenced by the particular translation that you pick up, and there are a great number of them out there. I chose the translation by Robert Fagles, largely based upon reading reviews and my own experience reading his translation of Aeschylus' The Oresteia. Fagles' translation of The Iliad, for me was just magical and the poem seemed alive with richness in a contemporary framework that I could readily understand. As I mentioned above, his translation is quite lyrical and loosely maintains a meter of five- and six-beats per line throughout. Read it aloud, it just rolls off of the tongue, and becomes simply enchanting.
I wanted to provide a couple of examples of the poetic flavor of The Iliad for you to experience. The first example is from Book 4: "The Truce Erupts In War" and is a description of the Achaean Army advancing across the Scamander Plain to meet the Trojan Army in combat--
"As a heavy surf assaults some roaring coast, piling breaker on breaker whipped by the West Wind, and out on the open sea a crest first rears its head and then pounds down on the shore with hoarse, rumbling thunder and in come more shouldering crests, arching up and breaking against some rocky spit, exploding salt foam to the skies-- so wave on wave they came, Achaean battalions ceaseless, surging on to war." (Book 4: Lines 489-496)
One can almost imagine the soldiers, shoulder to shoulder, spears pointed forward, rank upon rank, advancing across the dusty plain, screaming and bellowing at the top of their lungs as they move toward their Trojan foes. What a terrifying sight it must have been!
The next sample I want to provide is from the last book of The Iliad, and recounts the late-night meeting between Achilles and the Trojan King, Priam. I don't want to spoil the poem for any first-time readers, but suffice it to say that Priam is there for a very important reason; and after nearly ten years of war, the two adversaries sit together talking in Achilles' tent late at night. It is truly a tender, touching, and most poignant scene; especially this almost pensive reflection on the human cost of the war that Achilles shares with King Priam--
"Come, please, sit down on this chair here... Let us put our griefs to rest in our own hearts, rake them up no more, raw as we are with mourning. What good's to be won from tears that chill the spirit? So the immortals spun our lives that we, we wretched men live on to bear such torments--the gods live free of sorrows. There are two great jars that stand on the floor of Zeus's halls and hold his gifts, our miseries in one, the other blessings. When Zeus who loves the lightning mixes gifts for a man, now he meets with misfortune, now good times in turn. When Zeus dispenses gifts from the jar of sorrows only, he makes a man an outcast--brutal, ravenous hunger drives him down the face of the shining earth, stalking far and wide, cursed by gods and men." (Book 24: Lines 609-622)
So, so sad; and somehow one suddenly realizes that Achilles has become a very, very wise young man.
Almost 3,000 years ago, the Human Race was given a gift--a great gift from a largely unknown itinerant poet--The Iliad. It is a treasure for all humanity. Read it, think about it, learn from it, and most of all pass it on--tell this great story to all who will listen. It is their story too.
Anne Carson has done an amazingly marvelous job with her fascinating translation of her version of 'The Oresteia.' Her 'Oresteia' is a compilation ofAnne Carson has done an amazingly marvelous job with her fascinating translation of her version of 'The Oresteia.' Her 'Oresteia' is a compilation of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Dr. Carson has utilized Aeschylus' Agamemnon, Sophocles' Elektra, and Euripides' Orestes. I have to say that it is a simply brilliant combination. This is contemporary poetry at its absolute finest!
Her interpretation is modern, lyrical, and quite powerful. Carson's Agamemnon is bleak, dark, and sinister; and one can't help be astounded with the power and rage exhibited by Klytaimestra and the penetratingly prophetic and haunting voice of Kassandra.
The second play, that of Sophocles' Elektra, is equally riveting. In this rendition, Carson's interpretation gives Elektra's language great power and emotion as she incites her brother, Orestes in their plan to murder their mother, Klytaimestra. It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up as you read these lines, and watch the siblings enact their terrible vengeance upon their mother and her lover.
The final play is Carson's rendition of Euripides' Orestes, and deals with Orestes' deep and emotional descent into the internal hell of his guilt over his killing of his mother. The people of Argos are all too ready to condemn and execute him for his matricide. His sister, Elektra, steadfastly stays at his side, and tries to help him cope with the madness which afflicts him, i.e., the haunting of The Furies. The reader is even treated to a cameo appearance of Helen of Troy ('The Face that Launched a Thousand Ships'). Ultimately, it takes the intervention of Apollo to absolve Orestes of his matricide and restore order and justice to the Argive community.
If you have read Aeschylus' monumental masterpiece The Oresteia and any of the tragic plays of Sophocles and Euripides, I highly recommend this wonderfully contemporary treatment of the Oresteian tale by Anne Carson. Personally, I would simply love to see this version performed on the stage some time soon....more
I finished this new volume of translations of the seven existing plays by Sophocles last night. I unhesitatingly recommend this new work of the translI finished this new volume of translations of the seven existing plays by Sophocles last night. I unhesitatingly recommend this new work of the translators, Robert Bagg and James Scully, as they really did an outstanding job of presenting these powerful dramas with lyricism and impact. For your information, I am providing a list of the plays in the collection and the primary translator--
Aias (James Scully) Women of Trakhis (Robert Bagg) Philoktetes (James Scully) Elektra (Robert Bagg) Oedipus the King (Robert Bagg) Oedipus at Kolonos (Robert Bagg) Antigone (Robert Bagg)
Interestingly enough, this was the first time that I had read Aias (Ajax) or the Women of Trakhis and I really, really enjoyed both of them. While I was familiar with the story of Ajax from The Iliad, I have to say that Sophocles and James Scully really made me realize the physical and psychological toll that warfare and combat has upon a soldier. One has to believe that what is described in Aias can only be classified as "post-traumatic stress disorder" (PTSD). We see the toll that this 'madness' takes upon the family and friends of Ajax, and it is truly heartbreaking. In the Introduction to the volume, Bagg and Scully indicate that excerpts from both Aias and Philoktetes have been performed for members of the American armed services and their families in the context of addressing and dealing with PTSD. Bravo!
Finally, I have to say that I consider myself somewhat a connoisseur associated with Sophocles' Antigone, and the version in this collection is simply superb. The dialog is spare, clipped, and drips with pathos--we emotionally respond not only to what Kreon and Antigone say in the play, but the overall intent of Sophocles in writing the play. As Antigone prepares to meet her fate she laments,
"Hades, who chills each one of us to sleep, will guide me down to Acheron's shore. I'll go hearing no wedding hymn to carry me to my bridal chamber, or songs girls sing when flowers crown a bride's hair; I'm going to marry the River of Pain." (890-895)
That'll wrench your heart-strings. Bagg and Scully have given us a new version of Sophocles that is dramatic, poetic, and lyrical. The language incorporated in these translations is not in the slightest degree flowery or excessive. In my opinion, not one word is wasted, the emotion is right there--in your face--and it just feels right. Read these plays and see what you think....more