I know this looks really weird and everything, but apparently it's pretty great. Fictionalized bio of Henry James. Just, y'know, if I read him maybe II know this looks really weird and everything, but apparently it's pretty great. Fictionalized bio of Henry James. Just, y'know, if I read him maybe I'll check this out too....more
I know Alan Moore has done more "important" things like this, but he hasn't done anything that's this much fun. "But the movie sucked!" I know. BummerI know Alan Moore has done more "important" things like this, but he hasn't done anything that's this much fun. "But the movie sucked!" I know. Bummer....more
The Tain, sortof a bizarro Irish epic - like all the other Irish epics - was one of my favorite works in college. The definitive translation is by KinThe Tain, sortof a bizarro Irish epic - like all the other Irish epics - was one of my favorite works in college. The definitive translation is by Kinsella (1969), but there's this newish one by Ciaran Carson (2007), which I've finally gotten around to judging.
Here's the spoiler-free gist of the Tain: the Irish king Ailill and his wife Medb argue in bed over who's richer, and on the spot they insist on having every item they each own brought to them so they can tally it up - herds and all. They find that Ailill is up by an enormous bull, the equal of which can only be found in Ulster.
Medb offers to sleep with the Ulster cattle-owner if he'll give it to her. He refuses (after some consideration), so they decide to take it by force. (Why Ailill goes along with this is never explained.) For further insight into Medb's character: when she gets her period, she fills three trenches big enough that armies have to ford them. So there's that. Like the Old Testament, one of the Tain's central messages is that women are the root of all evil: "That's what happens when a mare leads a herd of horses - all their energy gets pissed away, following the rump of a skittish female." I would feel offended by this, but it is true that Irish women are pretty slutty. As opposed to Boston women, who are all...mostly Irish.
Unfortunately for Ulster, their entire force is currently laid low by a periodic curse that makes them unable to fight, except the 17-year-old prodigy Cu Chulainn, who once got so carried away during battle practice that all Ulster's women had to flash their tits at him to distract him from killing his own friends. He proceeds to hold the entire Irish army back single-handedly via guerrilla warfare, Braveheart-style, and the time-honored Jackie Chan "one at a time" fighting method. (After a while, Ailill and Medb take to betrothing their daughter to volunteers to take on Cu Chulainn, which she seems agreeable to until half the camp realizes they're engaged to her and kill each other; at that point she finally dies of shame.)
All the while Fergus, an Ulster exile and foster father of Cu Chulainn, is playing both sides; although technically on the Irish side, he repeatedly warns Cu Chulainn of traps and tries to delay Ailill and Medb.
Finally, the Ulstermen get over The Curse - yes, this is the only national epic that's more or less about periods - and, y'know, big-ass battle, and a remarkably perfect ending.
It's a terrific, bizarre, filthy story, and I haven't even mentioned that Cu Chulainn is basically the Hulk, prone to fits of rage where his body contorts into shapes that take whole pages to describe. I love the thing.
Carson's translation is fine. It modernizes the language, with the usual pros and cons of modernizations: it flows quickly and naturally, but every once in a while you get a line like "Two hearts that beat as one," and if Stacey Q references don't throw you right out of a thousand-year-old epic poem, I don't know what will. He also makes the grave mistake of trying to approach the rhyme of the original's occasional poetry breaks, despite having no rhyme skills whatsoever; witness this disgrace:
You've walked into the gap, You're in the danger zone. Sharp weapons will pierce you and cleave flesh and bone. This hero will take you to another place where you will find nothing but death and disgrace. (p. 139)
Those are some shitty rhymes, man. (And, yes, another 80's music reference.) Compare Kinsella's version, in which he more or less throws his hands up at rhyme:
You have reached your doom, your hour is come. My sword will slash, and not softly. When we meet you will fall at a hero's hands. Never again will you lead men. (p. 184)
Neither is terrific poetry, but Kinsella's is at least not distractingly awful.
Kinsella sporadically uses slant rhyme, which is a much better decision. And can you feel how numbingly rhythmic Carson's lines are? Like Run DMC at their worst, right? Whereas Kinsella breaks his metre up violently, which helps it feel a little less like a poem written by a sixth-grader. Carson is more faithful to the original; but metres that work in one language don't always work in another, and he should've admitted that in English, this sort of two-stress line sounds like nursery.
That's one sort of poem that recurs occasionally throughout the Tain. The other is called rosc, and it's entirely weirder. Sortof a show-off / ambiguous prophecy / flyting combination, it's purposefully obscure and pretty much impossible to deal with. Here's a comparison of the two translations, in a passage where Ailill says he doesn't really care that his wife slept with Fergus for no reason other than she's generally a trick:
Carson: I know the game well likewise queens and women true what they say the first fault theirs their sweet companionable wrath Finnabair's fair shield valorous Fergus (p. 62)
Kinsella: I know all about queens and women I lay first fault straight at women's own sweet swellings and loving lust valorous Fergus (p. 105)
I chose these two passages at random. In general, both have moments of passable aesthetic value; Kinsella is generally more clear in his meaning, although that also means he's taking more liberty with the exact translation.
Overall, Carson's translation is serviceable, except for his crap poetry, and reads fast; I'm not too down on it, but Kinsella is still the king. ...more
Love these plays. More work by my homeboy Fagles, whose weird linguistic tics I was getting pretty sick of by this time, and my super homeboy BernardLove these plays. More work by my homeboy Fagles, whose weird linguistic tics I was getting pretty sick of by this time, and my super homeboy Bernard Knox. ...more
Note that this doesn't include the "two essential commentaries" or whatever that Cindy read, which makes it 300 pages shorter and much much better. AnNote that this doesn't include the "two essential commentaries" or whatever that Cindy read, which makes it 300 pages shorter and much much better. And look how pretty it is! need....more
I don't always love Aristophanes; he can really cram the obscure contemporary references into his stuff, which makes it sortof impossible to get the jI don't always love Aristophanes; he can really cram the obscure contemporary references into his stuff, which makes it sortof impossible to get the jokes. But he makes a lot of fart jokes, too, and those are timeless.
In order, the best of these plays:
1) Lysistrata, by a long shot. The most original of Aristophanes' ideas, and the most timeless: as recently as 2012, feminists sarcastically suggested a Lysistrata when the Republicans accidentally launched an ill-fated war on birth control. The story is that Athenian women conspire with Spartans to deny sex to their husbands until they end the war. That idea is simple, funny and filthy. (This is, depending on your translation, the first time dildos are mentioned in literature.)
2) The Birds, which I like to imagine animated in the Yellow Submarine style. Clean and well thought out.
3) Clouds, relevant because it's about Socrates, whom we know, and because it includes the best of Aristophanes' fart jokes - which is saying something since, as noted above, Aristophanes really likes fart jokes.
4) Frogs, which is mainly an argument between Aeschylus and Euripides about who's the best dramatist. (The play up til that climactic confrontation, which describes Dionysos disguised as Herakles journeying to the underworld to find a great poet, is faintly amusing but largely forgettable.) Aristophanes leaves Sophocles out, claiming that he's too dignified to bother with the whole charade (although one has to imagine that, however sweetly it's explained away, his absence has to betray Aristophanes' judgment). This was a lot of fun for me - and it's getting the most time here because I'm reading it right now, and realizing as I do that I never really reviewed the rest of them; I've done my best to write capsule reviews of those, but they're not what I'm thinking of at this moment. Anyway, I can't see the attraction for anyone who isn't pretty invested in both Aeschylus and Euripides. It contains what amounts to scholarly comparison of the metres of both poets; at times it sounds like a grad thesis.
Aeschylus appears to come out the winner here, but it does seems like all the best lines go to Euripides. Maybe this is just my own prejudice coloring my interpretation; I like Aeschylus, but I like the enfant terrible, tricky and rebellious Euripides better. To me, Aeschylus comes out pretty stodgy.
Aeschylus: The poet should cover up scandal, and not let anyone see it.
Euripides: You ought to make the people talk like people!
This judgment by the Chorus seems about accurate:
One [Aeschylus] is a wrestler strong and tough; quick the other one [Euripides], deft in defensive throws and the back-heel stuff.
And at the last, after Aeschylus has beaten Euripides, line for line, Dionysos says:
One of them's a great poet, I like the other one.
I'm going to go ahead and decide Aristophanes secretly agrees with me: Euripides is more fun. (Note: the text really doesn't support my conclusion.)
Aristophanes is aiming at, and concludes with, a more serious question for his time: should the politician Alcibiades be followed? Aeschylus says yes, Euripides says no. This is during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Greece. Alcibiades, a politician with an amazing capacity for joining whichever side happened to be winning - he had switched from Athens to Sparta to Persia back to Athens - would soon be exiled after some disastrous naval losses. (And Athens will, y'know, lose this war.) Aristophanes didn't know this yet (if I have the dates right here), but Euripides was right....more