This was one of the three main texts for Ancient Civs in first year uni (1998), but I didn't actually finish any of them (the other two were The OdyssThis was one of the three main texts for Ancient Civs in first year uni (1998), but I didn't actually finish any of them (the other two were The Odyssey and The Iliad, of course). This one I got farther with, but at uni you really have to juggle your extensive reading lists and with so many books to cover for English, History, Philosophy and Ancient Civs (that's my entire first year, right there), it was more prudent to stick with the short plays of Euripides, for instance, than these big epics. But I do remember enjoying what I read of this one, and dropping it in the bath. That, and Aeneas' love affair with Dido are the only things I remembered about this book. So I started reading this for the Classics book club pretty much from scratch.
To give you some context, Virgil was Italy, or Rome's, Homer, and The Aeneid is basically, on one level anyway, his version of Homer's Iliad. But in fact this story is much more than that, and since I haven't read The Iliad I can't compare them (but if you have, it would give you an interesting context for reading this one). Here is a basic summary, which gives you most of the salient points of the story (personally I find spoilers don't apply to texts as old as this, but if you do you can skip the summary).
It begins after the Battle of Troy, with the survivors of that doomed and destroyed city are in their ships, looking for a new home. But nothing happens without the gods meddling, and Juno seeks to prevent the Trojans from establishing a new Troy, as she has foreseen that it would eclipse her own favourite city, Cathage (in Tunisia), which she intended to one day rule the world. And so she sets the weather against the Trojans, aiming to destroy them for good, but Neptune intervenes and brings them safely to - wait for it - Carthage.
Here reigns Queen Dido (the Greek name for Queen Elissa, the founder of Carthage), and thanks to Aeneas's immortal mother, Venus, Cupid makes her fall in love with Aeneas, the captain and leader of the surviving Trojans (I never really understood why). Aeneas tells Dido the story of the fall of Troy from the Trojan perspective, and what their plans are - but after he and Dido get busy in a cave one day, he seems to abandon the goal of establishing a new Troy.
Enter Jove - or Jupiter or Zeus, king of the gods and both husband and brother to Juno - who sends a messenger to Aeneas to remind him of his mission, a god-ordained mission. Dido freaks out when Aeneas tells her he is leaving her, and both kills herself and destroys her city. Aeneas blithely sails on and eventually finds his way to Italy, where he arrives peacefully in Latium and is offered the king's daughter in marriage - but a rival for fair Lavinia, Turnus, incites war to oust the invaders, in which the gods - despite Jupiter's injunction to stop meddling - continue to play a hand in.
There's a lot going on in this deceptively straight-forward epic, but I feel a bit Vergil'd out and lacking the motivation to really go into it all. Also, it's been about three weeks since I finished it. Let me start with a bit about this particular edition/translation.
Robert Fagles is well known for his translations of the Greek and Roman epics, as a translator who makes these works accessible (readable) for modern audiences. At uni we were always told we had to read the Richard Latimore translations, as they're more "academic", but I was recently bitten by the "academic" translation of The Tale of Genji so I was determined to get Fagles this time, knowing I probably wouldn't be able to finish it in time for the book club meeting otherwise. And it certainly is readable. I think a comparison would be in order, though, because I want to say that there're some really beautiful lines in this book but I don't know if that's Vergil or Fagles, especially since in his Translator's Postscript Fagles talks about his own voice, and his work, which took me by surprise. He's not being completely presumptuous - in fact he sounds quite humbled by Virgil, as you read on - but there is as always this looming question of whether you're getting a true sense of the original. (I know, you'd have to read the original to get that, but what I mean is that every translator has their own style, and every translator makes decisions on how to translate a line, a word, a phrase, so that they become inseparable.)
I didn't end up reading much of the Introduction. I usually like to read it before the actual text, for these kinds of books, because they can help you understand what you're reading. But in this case I didn't find the Intro to be terribly useful. It does provide some good historical context, though. More useful is the map, which shows Aeneas' voyage and all the places he made landfall, and the extensive glossary at the back - particularly as several characters have more than one name.
Going back to the language, it really is quite lovely at times.
On they went, those dim travelers under the lonely night, through gloom and the empty halls of Death's ghostly realm, like those who walk through woods by a grudging moon's deceptive light when Jove has plunged the sky in dark and the black night drains all color from the world. [...] There in the midst, a giant shadowy elm tree spreads her ancient branching arms, home, they say, to swarms of false dreams, one clinging tight under each leaf. [p.191]
While I never really did get comfortable with the cadence of the lines - the punctuation and broken-up sentences - I still found it very poetic and quite lovely. Yet, you'd be surprised at the violence in the novel, the blood and gore and brutality. Well, I was surprised, not so much that there was violence as the stark quality to it, the lack of mercy - the big war that takes up the second half of the story sees many farmers pitted against soldiers, and when anyone surrenders they're brutally killed.
But while he begged the sword goes plunging clean through Euryalus' ribs, cleaving open his white chest. He writhes in death as blood flows over his shapely limbs, his neck droops, sinking over a shoulder, limp as a crimson flower cut off by a passing plow, that droops as it dies or frail as poppies, their necks wearing, bending their heads when a sudden shower weighs them down. [p.280]
(Euryalus was a Trojan and in love with another soldier, Nisus - they are both killed when they go out on a secret mission at night against the entrenched enemy.) There is a great deal of gruesome killing on both sides, and I usually had no idea which army the characters were from.
But Halaesus hot for combat charges against them now, compressing all his force behind his weapons. Ladon he butchers, Pheres, Demodocus - a flash of his sword and he slices off Strymonius' hand just as it clutched his throat. He smashes Thoas full in the face with a rock and crushes out his skull in a spray of brains and blood. [p.307]
Virgil was clearly fond of metaphors and similes, and often goes into poetic tangents where he describes things in terms of animals or flowers - like the poppy metaphor above. Alongside the mythology that runs throughout the story (the gods, the seers, the cyclops', the trip down to hell), the consistent references and anchoring of characters and events to the natural world presents a culture that is so different from our own, and yet, in many ways, the foundation of our culture. I couldn't help but admire their close connection with so many earthly and otherworldly elements.
I did have a moment of clarity while reading this, that I hadn't had at any other time of reading or studying ancient Greece or Rome. For the Greeks and Romans, with their many gods who live out a soap opera-like life, many heroes - historical or otherwise - were born of the gods. Aeneas' mother is Venus, or Aphrodite. Lots of characters have an immortal parent, and some - like Turnus' sister - were changed into immortals (often after being seduced by a god). In the context of this melding between the gods and mortals, it really isn't odd to think that a group of men sat at conference, deciding Jesus' level of immortality: he joins Odysseus and Hercules and many, many more. (Yes it's different, but I'm referring to the context - you would never get people today, outside of the Vatican, having a meeting to decide that your neighbour, say, was practically a god. We're in a different mental headspace.)
What I mean to say is, that it was quite easy and not at all unusual to take extraordinary people and decide, posthumously, that they were the offspring of gods. I'm sure someone somewhere's done a study or two on that.
The other thing I always notice when I read ancient texts like these, or the bible, is how they're essentially Fantasy fiction. Or let me turn that around: our love of these kinds of stories, of magic and gods and foretelling, one-eyed giants, magic, witches etc, of heroic quests and tragic love stories, has never died. I would say even that Fantasy is the oldest genre - it's the modern version of mythology, after all. When you read a novel by Tolkien, Shinn, Holdstock, Sanderson et al, they're not writing stories that were invented relatively recently. So going back to writers like Homer and Virgil isn't far out of our comfort zone, and it's one reason why they continue to be read and loved today.
The story surprised me in several ways, and wasn't entirely predictable: I didn't anticipate that about half the story would be a war, for instance. But it is truly fascinating, even if all the names start to run together and I sometimes struggled to tell Anchises, Ascanius and Acestes apart (their names are too similar for me!). As I mentioned, I haven't read the Iliad, but apparently they have similar plot points, though many scholars and other readers consider Virgil's version to be better than Homer's.
They are different stories written for different purposes. The Aeneid was written as a history of Italy and to show how the Roman Emperors were direct descendants of Aeneas, who was descended of the gods and Troy. Since the emperors were claimed to be the sons of gods (or they claimed to be), this was an important piece of propaganda. I was talking to a friend who also studied ancient civilisations at uni, and she mentioned that many academics debate whether Virgil was 100% patriotic, or if he had subliminal messages in the Aeneid. Whether he was a simple brown-nose or was not entirely approving of the Roman emperors. It's fun to keep that in mind while reading it, because you can read into it quite a bit.
Virgil never finished his epic to his satisfaction (which would also explain the oddly abrupt ending) and wanted it destroyed when he died, but the Emperor Augustus refused. Clearly he found it to be favourable propaganda. I found it to be an interesting story, sometimes gripping, sometimes infuriating, sometimes a bit slow, but as with most classics, the more education you have about a certain period, the more you'll get out of it. Mine is pretty hazy now and two years isn't great, but it gave me a bit of a leg-up. Still, there's clearly a lot going on here that I don't have the background to fully understand. Regardless, it's worth reading. ...more
I never read this as a kid, of that I'm quite sure. I'd heard of it of course - it's been around for over 70 years, after all! - but now that I've reaI never read this as a kid, of that I'm quite sure. I'd heard of it of course - it's been around for over 70 years, after all! - but now that I've read it, I know for sure I didn't read it or have it read to me as a child. If I had, I would probably have enjoyed it more as an adult, even if just for the nostalgia. That tends to be the way it works. It's not that I think it's terrible or anything, it just doesn't hold my interest or appeal - it's very much a story from the early 20th century (or maybe even older), which makes it dated in a quaint way, but it's more the way it's written and how cutesy it is that makes me a reluctant reader.
A simple story, it's about a little train that is carrying lots of "good things for boys and girls" in the town over the mountain. These include toy animals and dolls - and even "the funniest toy clown you ever saw." And there are cars full of puzzles, toy engines, books and "every kind of thing boys or girls could want." And there are cars full of good things for boys and girls to eat and drink. The engine "puffed along merrily" until "all of a sudden she stopped with a jerk. She simply could not go another inch. She tried and tried, but her wheels would not turn."
The toys get out and try to help. They wave down passing train engines to ask them to pull their train over the mountain, but the first one, a shiny new engine, is too important and posh for such work. The second was a big strong engine, but he was a freight engine that had just pulled a big load of machines over the mountain and was too important to "pull the likes of you!" The third was an old, rusty engine that said he was too tired to pull "even so little a train as yours over the mountain. I can not. I can not. I can not."
The fourth train engine was a very little engine, but she was kind and decided to try. And as she puffed and chugged and slowly got the train moving, she chanted to herself, "I think I can - I think I can - I think I can..."
It is a very sweet story indeed, full of positive messages (be kind, considerate and helpful to others, you don't know what you can or can't do until you try, cooperation etc.). It was rather interesting to me, the cynical adult wary of stereotypes, that the first three engines were all portrayed as male, while the little blue engine that agreed to help them was female.
The illustrations, also from the original 1930 publication, match it well. I've found that the kids - 2 years old now - have a little trouble seeing the two illustrations, one on each page, as one long panoramic picture. Also, the pictures don't always match the text, which seems to have trouble keeping up with the illustrations. The repetitions in the text get a bit annoying for the adult reader (all the good boys and girls over the mountain), but of course the children like them. I was rather tickled to hear my two-year-old (this was before his birthday, actually), saying "I think I can I think I can" - not that he knows what it means, really, but it's always nice to hear a complete sentence!
"Watty Piper" is actually a pseudonym for the Platt & Munk Publishing house, which is a division of Grosset & Dunlap, which is a division of Penguin Young Readers Group. Phew! It's a retelling of Mabel C Bragg's The Pony Engine, which I've never heard of before but I can imagine it must be something similar (still in print??). I got the hardback but I'm now wishing I had got the board book version (same publisher), as the toddlers are quite into this and have already ripped out one of the pages - twice. ...more
This is an old classic, and while the illustrations look vaguely familiar to me I couldn't say for sure whether I read this as a kid. As the subtitleThis is an old classic, and while the illustrations look vaguely familiar to me I couldn't say for sure whether I read this as a kid. As the subtitle says, it's the story of a cap peddler, some monkeys and their monkey business. The peddler wears all the caps on his own head, organised by colour; when he takes a nap under a tree one day he wakes up to find them all gone. After futilely looking around, he looks up at the tree and finds it full of monkeys, each one wearing one of his caps. He then has to figure out a way of getting them back, which he does - inadvertently.
It's a fun story with some vocab repetition and counting, and the illustrations are very unusual compared to what you get these days - they definitely have an old world charm to them, not least because they're from a different era; I looked up the author and found that after emigrating to the US she was a member of the American Abstract Artists group. This is one of those old classics that's still going strong. ...more
There are apparently two editions for this book: one published with children in mind, and one with adults in mind. This is a children's edition, whichThere are apparently two editions for this book: one published with children in mind, and one with adults in mind. This is a children's edition, which means that there aren't any notes and the chapters are titled instead of numbered, with very obvious titles like "We Reach Iceland" and "Inside the Crater". You could read the list of chapters and get the whole story, really. It's also kept the original names of the characters - the narrator is Axel, not what was it, Henry? (Both are German names, but I guess Henry sounds more English!) This isn't an abridged edition, but there is an additional scene in the non-children's edition that I hear isn't authentic to Verne. Honestly, I was just happy to have this end.
In her introduction, Diana Wynne-Jones talks of reading and loving this book at the age of 10. As I was reading it, I kept thinking, ten? TEN?!? On the one hand, the loopy science and fantastical inner world would certainly appeal to children, though if I had read it at the age of ten I certainly would have questioned the science just as much as now; on the other hand, the descriptions are so hard to follow (because the writing is poor) and the story so often dull and slow, that I don't know that I would have ever finished it.
A great portion of the story is concerned with discovering the secret map in code, assembling a ridiculous list of supplies (that makes no logical sense, in terms of food and water - sorry, rum), getting to Iceland, and then traversing rock corridors within the volcano. And they never do reach the centre of the earth. Where they arrive at is a vast inner world, with its own sky and sea and cliffs and giant humans, giant sea monsters and weird colourless plants. And then suddenly they're on the surface again.
There's not much too it, and while Axel provides the foil to his eccentric scientist uncle, Professor Lidenbrock, he's one very annoying young man. The constant complaining (although he's often right - he says what we're thinking, much of the time) and whinging make him sound like a petulant little boy, and not much fun to be around either. I didn't like the Professor much at all either - he's completely lacking in charisma and can't listen to others. The real hero of the story is Hans, their Icelandic guide, who saves them time and time again, and without whom they would have perished before even making it inside the volcano. But don't worry, he got his pay! Dear me.
Overall, not one I'd recommend, though I hear Verne's other two famous books are better written....more
This has to be one of the weirdest books I've read in a while, in this genre at least. Cecil Pendergast is a young man who meets Muriel Harcourt, a yoThis has to be one of the weirdest books I've read in a while, in this genre at least. Cecil Pendergast is a young man who meets Muriel Harcourt, a young and pretty widow, at a ball and is easily drawn into her relationship with her maid and childhood friend, Juliette. He discovers quickly that Muriel likes to take a cane to her lovers and be the dominant one, but he's having none of it and turns the table on her, taking over the relationship with both women.
When Muriel takes on her two young nieces for a summer, Gladys and Ethel, whose father - Muriel's brother George - warns that they are wilful and need discipline and that he gives Muriel carte blanche to "correct" them, Cecil thinks it a wonderful idea to rent a seaside cottage on the Dorset coast for the summer. There is much spanking, old English boarding-school style, and fondling, kissing, fellatio and so on, and I guess it's a small mercy (but the only one we get) that Cecil doesn't deflower them - though he does take liberties with Ethel in another way, at the very end. Oh, and the discipline does wonders for the girls, of course.
Perhaps you have to be English to understand this preoccupation with disciplinary spanking, because I don't really get it. It's not very sexual at all, and at times, here, it's downright cruel. Corporal punishment was widely and freely used in England at the time this book was written (and not only then), and the undercurrent of sexual thrill that seems to have preoccupied the nation's youngsters is vividly described here. Muriel and Juliette tell the story of how they met at boarding school, and how all the older girls have younger slaves who they would get to pleasure them at night, and who they would punish with a beating for wrongdoing. You learn more in school than subject matter; you also learn human relations, and that is never more clearly spelt out than in Sadopaideia.
There is method to this corporal punishment frenzy, and at times even restraint, but like the previous Forbidden Classic novel I read, The Way of a Man With a Maid, it was all too much and rather bewildering and definitely from a different time, not least in the way it was written and the way people talk in the books. It's almost like a farce. But from a purely disaffected, curious standpoint, it's certainly quite interesting. Just not at all sexy. ...more
You know how, during Victorian times, there was a great wealth of vaudeville and doctors using vibrators on female patients and such naughty stuff, asYou know how, during Victorian times, there was a great wealth of vaudeville and doctors using vibrators on female patients and such naughty stuff, as if the very emphasis on hiding coffee table legs because they supposedly made men think of women's ankles produced, in direct contrast, a great thirst for porn. If you had thought that maybe, a hundred years and more ago, people's imaginations were much tamer than they are today, you'd be very very wrong (in fact, the history of sex is literally as old as time! It'd have to be, when you think about it, but what I mean is that "porn" is just as ancient!).
I wanted to preface this review with that paragraph in order to give it a bit of context, and so you won't be surprised when I tell you that this book, originally published in Parisian journals around the turn of the 19th century (the original publication date is unknown but considered to be about 1908), would make modern erotic novels (of which I've read several) blush.
It begins with the narrator, Jack, the "quintessential Edwardian gentleman", plotting his revenge on Alice, a pretty young lady in his social circle who rejected his suit. His vague plans clarify when he rents an apartment in what was once a mental asylum: it includes a windowless inner room with just a skylight above, completely soundproof and even still has metal rings embedded in the walls and pillars! He dubs it his "snuggery" and buys some specially designed furniture for it, chairs and couches with cleverly hidden straps and cuffs and winches. Then he sets to work making Alice comfortable in his presence, inviting her and her sister over for tea, until the day comes when Alice takes refuge from a storm and he traps her in the snuggery! Now he can enact his revenge on Alice's sweet body at his leisure.
He not only succeeds in his original plan, he also manages to "convert" Alice to his sexual nature. Jack encourages her in this, and helps her trap first her pert maid, Fanny, and then a lovely young widow, Connie. Jack ends up with a veritable harem of three women who help him entrap a lady and her marriageable daughter, who have been pestering Jack with broad hints at marriage.
On the one hand, the prose makes the story rather hilarious, and on the other the wealth of detail becomes rather too much. I had to read it in bits so as not to feel overwhelmed with it all. Jack, who narrates with glee, is very excitable and litters his sentences with exclamation points - his enthusiasm and excitement is tantamount. It also made him seem rather immature, and I have to wonder at the level of experience of the author because some of the scenarios are highly unlikely (I don't mean the scenarios themselves so much as the effect on the women victims).
Most of the time, the novel was so over-the-top and silly that it was quite funny. Towards the end, especially the part where Jack and his harem set to work corrupting Lady Betty and her daughter Molly, it was rather repulsive. But that's erotica for you - it's not necessarily "sexy". It's more a detailed exploration of repressed sexuality and coming to terms with your desires, "needs" and so forth. It's psychological. I'm not sure just how much I would read into The Way of a Man With a Maid, though. For the most part it seems to be meant simply as wicked titillation. And highly gratuitous at that. I chose to read it as smut.
I want to share the writing style with you, and I'd love to show you the kind of language used which is decidedly erotic but not at all romantic; I couldn't do so without being distasteful so I've randomly chosen a paragraph that's fairly innocent:
Confused, shamefaced and in horrible dread, Alice stood trembling in front of me, her eyes tightly closed as if to avoid the sign of my naked self, her bosom agitatedly palpitating till her breasts seemed almost to be dancing! I leant back in my chair luxuriously as I gloated over the voluptuously charming spectacle, allowing her a little time in which to recover herself somewhat before I set to work to feel her again. (p.43)
Exuberant, isn't it?
I've acquired a few other books in this Forbidden Classics series and I'm very curious about them. It's so fascinating to get this insight into the sexual escapades, perceptions, attitudes and so on, of earlier periods. Because like I said, porn is ancient in all cultures. The blurb from the publisher describes this book as "a foray into pleasure, pain, lesbianism and etiquette", and there is definitely "that" between the lines, in the depths of Alice's eyes, that make this a perfect "up yours" to Freud....more