This was a hoot - three linked novellas each drawn from much older traditions, one from The Arabian Nights and two from Greek mythology (the careers o...moreThis was a hoot - three linked novellas each drawn from much older traditions, one from The Arabian Nights and two from Greek mythology (the careers of Perseus and Bellerophon, respectively). There's too much deconstructionist wankery in here for me, personally; I'm not all that interested in theories of narrative, texts that are aware of themselves, et cetera, and the author's occasional appearances in his own story come off as indulgent, but then again... a chimera is after all a conjunction of three animals and there are three interrelated stories here, hmmm. And the grand finale does feature slaying of said creature by Bellerophon, although whether it actually exists in the story is another matter, but then again maybe the actual chimera is ontologically less significant than the myth of one, seeing as how countless people know of the story but how many have actually encountered one? So... yeah. A bit too much for me, very dense. But I reserve the right to a reread, whereafter I may come back and announce how beautifully it all fits together and how clever John Barth really is. I bet he would really like that.
Okay, but strip away that extra stuff and still you are left with three dazzling stories. It's best to put a little effort into it up front; look up the dozen or so character names he deals out when a story starts, reread little bits early on if you have to, because once Barth gets going he really is the virtuoso he describes. Somehow he can balance modern language with mythic settings in a way that makes the legend grow larger in the telling. I had some passing acquaintance with these stories before Chimera but now I feel like I really know them, and in this respect I really have to give kudos to Mr. Barth. In fact if you are genuinely interested in mythology than I'll call this out as a must-read.
Oh and let's not forget that Chimera is full of wild sex and laugh-out-loud humor without breaking any of its legendary context. I will never look at Amazons the same way again.(less)
Hilarious. A bit like a Three's Company episode set in the English countryside pre-war. The entire plot is driven by misheard conversations and silly...moreHilarious. A bit like a Three's Company episode set in the English countryside pre-war. The entire plot is driven by misheard conversations and silly characters.
This is one of the later Jeeves' novels but there are tons of others and short story collections too, including several that are in the public domain. I might try one of those next.(less)
So... science fiction written before The Enlightenment; isn't that an oxymoron?
A Voyage to the Moon belongs on a shelf with Gulliver's Travels, Garga...moreSo... science fiction written before The Enlightenment; isn't that an oxymoron?
A Voyage to the Moon belongs on a shelf with Gulliver's Travels, Gargantua and Pantagruel, and Candide, but I suspect you'll have trouble finding the book in English, which is a shame. Fortunately Google Books has an electronic late seventeenth-century translation that comes with some great illustrations. This is the edition that I have read. It sometimes takes a little work to tease out the meaning (or the punchline!) from these old, roundabout sentences, but it is definitely worth it, and a far cry from the difficulty of deciphering, say, Shakespeare or Milton.
Cyrano, our narrator of the famous nose, contrives a plan to visit The Moon without rockets, cannons, or a vehicle of any kind; instead, he reasons that if The Sun would pull up the dew from the grass, then he need only carry a bunch of bottles full of dew, and The Sun would pull him to The Moon! This first plan backfires for Cyrano and he ends up landing in New France (Canada), but after several other deranged attempts he is set upon his way, where he goes on to explore The Moon throughout the rest of the book.
Scientific discussions are most interesting when they are logical, convincing, and lead to conclusions that are not only incorrect but utterly absurd. Who's to say that in the 21st century, we are not guilty of the same thing? Once Cyrano has reached The Moon, this book basically becomes a series of such discussions, but I don't see this as a disappointment; what it lacks in traditional SF tropes it makes up for with clever, witty, and often bewildering arguments that shows us how alien The Moon's inhabitants are. (for instance their speech is similar to music, so that whenever Cyrano introduces a member of The Moon's royalty, their name is transcribed as a little staff with several notes on it) Coupled with all this is the fact that Cyrano was writing nearly four hundred years ago, which leads us to wonder whether he might even believe some of this stuff?
In any case, if you are interested in the history of science or science fiction, or just want to bask in some French Renaissance lunacy, then this one might be worth picking up. (less)
This is a review of the Bantam edition from the 80s, which contains all eleven surviving plays with translations by -
B. B. Rogers (1829-1919) x 4 R. H....moreThis is a review of the Bantam edition from the 80s, which contains all eleven surviving plays with translations by -
B. B. Rogers (1829-1919) x 4 R. H. Webb (1882-1952) x 3 Jack Lindsay (1900-1990) x 2 Moses Hadas (1900-1966) x 2 (also the editor)
First off, GR friends help me out here, where can I find more poetry like this? I've never seen anything like it. Does Aristophanes have any heirs in English? The editor cites Rogers as the first English translator who does him justice, but as far as I can tell all four of them are wizards. The verse is exuberant. It overflows with puns and metaphor and potty humor that is totally top-shelf. The meter often dazzles in a way that makes things even funnier.
Imagine a pair of iambic sixteen syllable monsters that are expected to rhyme. The first line ends unexpectedly on an unusual note and there's no way that circuitous second can make it back around to the end without collapsing, can it? Let alone rhyming with the first and it's a stretch but hey! he pulls it off, what a relief. But here's the next actor riposting with a couplet of his own and wham! that pops too, back and forth each one wilder than the one before it and it's like a dirty neverending limerick, pure madness. You probably can't tell where Aristophanes ends and the translation begins unless you have Greek, but I really don't care. At this point I'm more interested in the overall reading experience than any slavish fidelity to the original.
That said I think most readers will benefit by having the right groundwork before they tackle this. I first tried it a couple of years ago and I had to put it back and regroup. As with Aesychlus, Sophocles, etc. some knowledge of Greek mythology helps, however a bit of background in 5th century Athenian politics also plays a large role as these comedies are more topical than what you'll find in Greek tragedy. The Peleponnesian War is a frequent theme, and many statesmen of the day are called out to be lampooned by the comic master. If you need a brushup I can recommend Freeman's Egypt Greece and Rome as well as The Life of Greece by Durant, which is an oldie but goodie.
Poetry aside the premises of these plays are ingenious and hilarious. In The Acharnians Dicheapolis is so tired of war with Sparta that he decides to go propose his own private peace with the enemy. In Birds we have the sky fortress Cloudcuckooland causing trouble as it gets in the way of the smoke that rises up for sacrifices to Olympus. Plus it has talking birds. Lysistrata is probably the funniest and baudiest of all, based on the simple premise that the war will end if all the women band together in a promise to withhold sex from their husbands.
So again, where can I find more poetry like this? The hunt is on. In the meantime there is a newer collection of these eleven plays translated by -
Paul Roche (1916-2007)
which I am looking forward to. He seems to take more liberties with the text, but as I found his translation of Aesychlus' Oresteia to be downright thunderous, I am willing to trust him. (less)