As I expected, there were a TON of pronouns - or more precisely, around 300 (no, I didn't count them, thanks) - in a mere 3...moreMay not be that important--
As I expected, there were a TON of pronouns - or more precisely, around 300 (no, I didn't count them, thanks) - in a mere 30 pages of the text, which was followed by a rather random and rambling work of equal length called Works and Days. There were maybe four parts in Theogony that I found was of historical, literary, and mythological significance: the naming of the Muses (which is minimal, since Hesiod doesn't assign their specific functions), Cronos's castration of his father, Zeus's birth, and the gods' war with the Titans. In the second work, the only interesting parts were the story about Prometheus and the division of human history into not three but five stages (gold, silver, bronze, "demigods and heroes," and finally iron). If it weren't for its sheer shortness, I wouldn't bother to spend time on it. I think a quick reading of a summary on Wikipedia or other sources would suffice for gleaning the "important" elements in the work.
Ovid, or Publius Ovidius Naso, justly deserves his acclaim as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literat...moreA great classic and great translation--
Ovid, or Publius Ovidius Naso, justly deserves his acclaim as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature alongside Horace and Virgil. And he knows it and doesn't bother to hide it, as he appends this bit of encomium to himself at the very end:
My work is finished now: no wrath of Jove nor sword nor fire nor futurity is capable of laying waste to it. ... wherever Roman governance extends over the subject nations of the world, my words will be upon the people's lips and if there is truth in poets' prophesies [sic, Quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus, as the Romans would say] then in my fame forever I will live.
So he is the worst kind of genius: a genius who knows he is a genius. Witty, elegant, and lively, his Metamorphoses is a masterpiece of epic poetry that tells of the myriad odd transformations that mythical (and sometimes historical) figures from Orpheus and Icarus to Romulus and Julius Caesar go through. Throughout, he is delightfully and cuttingly mocking of pretty much the entire epic tradition and every great poet that came before him, including no less authors than Virgil and Homer themselves. In at least three elaborate scenes, he makes so much fun of epic battles and they are hilariously and eerily reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino's comical massacre scene in his Kill Bill Vol. 1. Hell, Ovid can be tragic, comic, moving, and sarcastic/satirical all at the same time without lacking in elegance. The poem, 15 books of 1,000 lines per book, so seamlessly integrates story after story of wildly differing genres and plots and lengths that it feels like you're reading a single monomyth without getting bored or overwhelmed. In fact, befitting its title, the stories are constantly changing and sprouting out - each little story feeding into the next and each book spilling into the next without pauses - always keeping the reader on his toe and more often than not leaving the reader breathless and reeling.
Charles Martin did a superb job translating the work. He uses free verse in rendering Latin dactylic hexameter into iambic-friendly English, and it is really good. It's lively, swift, and above all, elegant - or in other words, as Ovid ought to be. Except in the scene where the Muses battle it out with the Pierides, a.k.a. P-Airides whose verse is rendered in modern rap, the translation had everything right and good (though even the surreal rap battle scene was not so bad - just weird). If you're looking to read Ovid, buy this edition. It apparently doesn't add anything new to the original (as many editions do, rather profusely and liberally and thus preposterously), faithful to the original, and very reader-friendly. In my opinion, it belongs to the best translations of the classics.
Although somewhat confusing in parts (esp. the Chorus), it was still a pleasure to read one of the oldest surviving Greek tragedies. The o...moreGood stuff--
Although somewhat confusing in parts (esp. the Chorus), it was still a pleasure to read one of the oldest surviving Greek tragedies. The only complete trilogy of Aeschylus surviving, Oresteia tells the story of Clytemnestra's murder of her husband, Agamemnon, then Agamemnon's son, Orestes's revenge on his own mother and her whipped wimp of a lover, Aegisthus, and finally Orestes's reconciliation with the crime of matricide in a bit surreal court scene of Apollo defending Orestes's murder against the accusation of the Furies (Eumenides) in front of a tribunal which Athena quickly composes of wise mortal men, saying that she the divinity/goddess of wisdom herself wasn't quite up to par to render judgment in such a hard case but those mortals put together can.
All the plays here - with the possible exception of The Persians - are parts of trilogies forever lost to us. As a consequence, a...moreGood but incomplete--
All the plays here - with the possible exception of The Persians - are parts of trilogies forever lost to us. As a consequence, although they promise much to come, some of them are uninteresting and static at best. Such is the case with Seven Against Thebes and The Suppliant Maidens, albeit the latter is mildly interesting as the beginning of a great tragedy that leads to a bloody massacre of 49 husbands at the hands of 49 maidens. But not so with Seven Against Thebes, whose main event is a rather prolix and dull recounting of the seven enemy leaders and their blazonry (i.e. what their shields look like in elaborate, if not grueling, detail).
The Persians is perhaps the most inferior of all due to its excessively lugubrious and thus silly exchanges between the chorus and Xerxes who can't but repeat the word "woe" and its various synonyms for page after page with the chorus. E.g.:
X: Shout antiphonal to me. Chorus: To woebegone woeful gift of woes. X: Raising a cry, join together our songs. X&C: Alas, O woe, woe, woe, upon woe. C: Hearing this calamity/ Oh! I am pierced. X: Sweep, sweep, sweep with the oar, and groan for my sake. C: I weeps, alas, woe is me. X: Shout antiphonal to me. C: My duty is here, O master, lord. X: Lift up your voice in lamenting now. X&C: Alas, O woe, woe, woe upon woe.
It's similar to someone trying really really hard to explain something without realizing that the person he is talking to already understands what he's trying to explain, like a long time ago. E.g.:
A: Look, so this fact-- B: I got it man. A: Right, so here this word "woe" represents-- B: I, I got it. A: Listen, this Xerxes was real down, you know, real down-- B: Dude, I got it A: No, but you see the thing is the chorus reflects-- B: I said I got it!
Prometheus Bound is interesting in the same way The Suppliant Maidens is interesting, and is additionally interesting for its mythological significance and symbolism. Though not much action takes place, it plays on several layers of symbolic representation and its dialogues are much livelier than the others. Take, for example, the exchange between Prometheus and Hermes, the messenger of Zeus whom Prometheus hates (Prometheus prophesies that Zeus will be taken down by one of his sons and Zeus sends Hermes to find out just by which of the countless women he will have intercourse with will beget this SOB - apparently Zeus the almighty is not omniscient):
P: Alas! H: Alas! Zeus does not know that word. P: Time in its aging course teaches all things. [oh!] H: But you have not yet learned a wise discretion. [OH!] P: True: or I would not speak so to a servant.[OH!! how'bout that now, Hermie?] H: It seems you will not grant the Father's wish. P: I should be glad, indeed, to requite his kindness! [OHHHHHHH]*
*the comments in brackets are the reviewer's interpretive and extraneous background noise intended to perhaps enrich the original text.
So all in all, despite their potential and promise, the plays in this collection suffer from incompleteness and so they get an "OK" rating.(less)
There is no question about it. Euripides is a genius. Having read the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles, I have to say Euripides takes...moreSolid tragedies--
There is no question about it. Euripides is a genius. Having read the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles, I have to say Euripides takes it to the next level with all those fascinating characters whose psychologies are revealed on stage to great effect. Maybe it has to do with the near doing away of the annoying chorus that sings about fate and woe and gods and all the poetic drivel that stanches the flow of the narrative and ruins it more often than not (in my humble opinion). Euripides' characters are alive with real, identifiable emotions, and you can almost see them in front of you (well not quite, but you get the idea). Maybe I'm a fan of realism; but that doesn't alter the fact that Euripidean characters are interesting, and more so than the stiff paper cutouts of Aeschylus or the almost inhuman, idealized heroes of Sophocles (actions may speak louder than words, sure, but the thoughts and emotions of the tragic characters facing catastrophic disasters ad sufferings - something that doesn't happen to all of us - are just too juicy to be not expressed).
This collection contains the only satyr play apparently surviving, Cyclopes, a non-Aristotelian tragedy, Heracles, and two romance plays, Ip...moreGood but--
This collection contains the only satyr play apparently surviving, Cyclopes, a non-Aristotelian tragedy, Heracles, and two romance plays, Iphigenia in Tauris and Helen, which share an almost identical plot, where a woman who thought was dead is actually alive in a foreign land farm from Greece, is then reunited with her brother/husband, escapes the foreign land by trickery, and divinity coming to their aid at the end à la deus ex machina.
Cyclopes is short and vulgar, and could be funny (depending on your sense of humor), which is what satyr plays are supposed to be. I thought it was okay. The two romance plays are, ipso facto not tragedies, but are nonetheless enjoyable in their own way (e.g., I really didn't want anything bad to happen to Iphigenia and Helen, though if it were a tragedy, it would've happened mercilessly to my further paradoxical schadenfreud, but which contradictory wishes kept me on my toes throughout the plays almost like a drug addict trying to quit the evil habit only to be confronted with numerous temptations of the panacean withdrawal-ending shot that is dangling just out of his reach).
So it turns out that Heracles is the only real tragedy (if we can concede that tragedy is something really sad) included in this book. But the plot is a bit too immature, making children-loving Heracles go mad by a too-easy supernatural cause and for really no reason (well, I don't know if Hera's insane jealousy over her almighty husband's one-night-stand (or one long night the length of usual three, if you want to be picky about it) affair with Alcmene who bore Heracles constitutes a legit reason to 1)try to kill Heracles with a snake when he was an infant; 2)make Heracles and not Zeus or Alcmene do twelve missions impossible; and 3)make Heracles, as opposed to, again, not Zeus or Alcmene, kill his wife and three children who really had absolutely nothing to do with Zeus's romping affair). So basically, Heracles saves his children and wife, and suddenly go mad out of the blue (well Madness - duh - the goddess is "responsible") and kill them all. It's just a bit too naive and coerced to be even plausible. But hey, gods were as real as humans in those days, so what can we say?
So though it was a fun read, this collection lacks the juicy meat of breast-beating, hand-wringing, and hair-tearing tragedy (like Medea or Hecuba), and so it gets a 2.5.
This collection includes Hecuba, Andromache, The Trojan women, and Ion, the first three of which deal with, well, the Trojan women after the war...moreGood--
This collection includes Hecuba, Andromache, The Trojan women, and Ion, the first three of which deal with, well, the Trojan women after the war, and it does get a bit repetitive to read The Trojan Women after the first two. I think Hecuba is the finest of the three. The figure of Hecuba is just fascinating as a subject for the psychological vivisection that Euripides performs so well, what with all the compound grief of losing her husband, palace, status, wealth, and all her 19 children including Hector being killed and dragged around the palace for 9 unwholesome days and Polydorus being murdered like a dog by who she thought was a dear friend, Polymester, and Polyxena being sacrificed to the never-satisfied Achilles (who I think killed like a lot of her kids, e.g., Hector and Troilus) plus at least one grandchild. She loses, in a word, everything you can possibly imagine in a pretty horrible way. So how to present her grief on stage is more of a formidable challenge than anything else, and Euripides does a pretty good job of meeting it and handling it even by modern standards (I won't say it was amazing or excellent b/c if it were, I would've bawled my eyes out), and that mere accomplishment deserves praise.
Andromache is a weaker play but still interesting enough to carry you through to the end without getting bored. It's just that Hermione and Menelaus are so evil that they represent awesome villains, and anything with awesome villains is interesting. So Hermione, the daughter of Menelaus and Helen, is wedded to the son of Achilles Neoptolemus, who took Andromache (the widowed wife of Hector) as a mistress and begets a child by her. If you think this is already fucked up enough (would you take the wife of a man your father killed in battle?), listen to this: Hermione, because she's not getting knocked up, blames everything on Andromache and accuses her of witchery and evil intentions, and tags up with her daddy and decides to kill her and her son (who is her husband's illegitimate son). So it's all pretty messed up and hence fun.
The Trojan Women is a rather mediocre, haphazard play without much of a plot. It's just Hecuba cursing her fate and grieving the losses of Cassandra, Andromache, and Astyanax, and whimpering about her bleak future. Hecuba presented a much, much more compelling portrayal of this uber-schlimazel of a woman, and I also don't think it does anything different or better...
Finally, Ion is a bit of a random play which can very well be classified as a romance play along with Iphigenia in Tauris and Helen. It's basically the same plot of the lost one found on the verge of being lost forever and some divinity wrapping it up at the end. So it was mildly interesting (definitely more so than The Trojan Women), and it's good to have a happy ending once in a while.(less)
This is another uneven collection of Euripides' plays, Rhesus, The Suppliant Women, Orestes, and Iphigenia in Aulis, the last two of whic...morePretty good--
This is another uneven collection of Euripides' plays, Rhesus, The Suppliant Women, Orestes, and Iphigenia in Aulis, the last two of which are, I think, substantially better than the first two.
Rhesus takes place dead in the middle of the Trojan War, based on the night sortie episode from Homer's Iliad where Dolon the Trojan spy meets his unlucky death at the hands of Odysseus and Diomedes, who, the Achaean spies themselves, skulk to the Trojan camp and slaughter those who are sleeping and defenseless, and scramble back home in a stolen chariot - in short, a hell of a heroic episode. Euripides remolds this pathetic episode into tragedy by making Rhesus - some obscure, minor character in Homer's epic - mightier than Achilles and Ajax and having Athene announce to Odysseus and Diomedes that if he doesn't die tonight, he'll single-handedly exterminate the Achaeans the next day. So Odysseus and Diomedes kill him while sleeping (which is really not that tragic, but well, considering that the Trojans would've wiped the Achaeans in a rout and ended the war if Rhesus had survived, it is, in a way, tragic).
The Suppliant Women is a better play than Rhesus, but still weak in that the protagonist is the suppliant women represented by the chorus, rendering it difficult to sympathize with what's happening (Adrastus does come close to being a principal character, but not quite), although it is still tragic in that the "happy" ending of Theseus bringing back the dead soldiers for proper burial is not really a "happy" ending, even though the suppliant women's wishes are fulfilled, for their husbands and sons are, after all, dead.
Orestes is far superior to the above two in that it is an exciting play with quick actions and escalating conflict. Orestes and Electra are condemned to death for matricide while their uncle, Menelaus basically refuses to help them. Pissed off at their uncle, they decide to kill his wife and daughter who happen to be visiting the palace. With the help of their ultra-loyal friend Pylades, they round up Helen's servants and try to kill Helen only to see her disappear into thin air. Forced to give the first murderous scheme up, they take hostage of Herimone and threaten to kill her and raze the palace to the ground unless Menelaus bails them out AND restore Orestes to the throne. Hearing this outrageous demand, Menelaus in turn gets pissed off, and tries to storm into the palace with the whole Argos population at his heel when Helen's literally divine brothers, Castor and Pollux appear and solve everything in an incredibly lame ex deus machina way. So the play had everything right up till the very last moment, I think.
Finally, Iphigenia in Aulis is quite excellent in the treatment of Agamemnon, who has to sacrifice his beloved daughter against his will, and his daughter and wife, who are, understandably, aghast to learn that their husband/father is intending to kill his daughter. Menelaus comes off almost comically as a jackass when he demands that his brother sacrifice his daughter so that he can bring back his adulterous wife, Helen. Seeing Agamemnon bawling his eyes out, he relents and they make up and everything seems to be going well until Clytemnestra arrives there with Iphigenia, intending to marry her daughter off to Achilles. Clytemnestra meets Achilles and learns that it was her husband's ruse to get Iphigenia there so he can sacrifice her.
Blowing up (not literally) at this revelation, they confront Agamemnon, and grill and roast the shit out of him (again, not literally), but he runs away. Then Achilles, who swore that he'd protect his alleged betrothed, comes fumbling in and tells them that the WHOLE Greek army is against him (even his good ol' Myrimidons) and wants to see her die (but of course he can, being Achilles, tak'em all out singlehandedly if his beloved betrothed would just give him a token nod of go-ahead). Being the saintly child that she is, Iphigenia gives up her life and volunteers to be sacrificed. Pretty sad, I know, but a good story.
Well here it is, the last of the five-volume collection containing Electra, The Phoenician Women, and The Bacchae, and I am done with Euripides....moreGood--
Well here it is, the last of the five-volume collection containing Electra, The Phoenician Women, and The Bacchae, and I am done with Euripides. After reading Aeschylus's Oresteia and Seven Against Thebes, Sophocles' Oedipus trilogy, and Euripides' Orestes, however, I was sort of fed up with the first two plays in this book since Electra is another take on Orestes and Electra's matricide, and The Phoenician Women reiterates much of Aeschylus's Seven Against Thebes and takes place between Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone. So all the dramatis personnae are a familiar cast for the Greek-tragedy-lovers, but apart from using the same material, they are good plays in themselves.
The Bacchae is a whole another play in itself and unique among the playwright's corpus (or in the whole of the extant Greek tragedies). Dionysus/Bacchus/Bromius, the god of booze and parties, is pissed (not in the British sense) at Thebes for dissing him, so he decides to make every woman of the city mad and as a result, the women go romping in the mountains with some ridiculous getup.
Seeing public disorder at hand, Pentheus, the sober grandchild of Cadamus the founder of Thebes, tries to quell the orgies and revelries that threaten the city, and arrests the god, who drunkenly destroys the entire palace with lightening and thunder (precisely why the god of wine can summon thunder and lightening is only for the gods to know), then makes Pentheus mad and dresses him in a woman's clothes and goes a-romping with Pentheus to the mountain to "check out" the field before letting him unleash squadrons of army against the drunken women who are reportedly having, well, a bacchanalian orgy. A host of miracles are reported, including, but not remotely limited to, women ripping cattle and bulls apart with their bare hands, flying over rivers, butchering men, and other jolly carousing.
Having taken Pentheus to the field, the god vanishes and orders the women to rip him apart with their bare hands, and this tragic sparagmos is done by the victim's mother and sisters. Coming home with a blinding hang-over and Pentheus's severed head on her thyrsus, the mother, Agave, insists that she has captured a lion and sparagmosed it alright with her hands and proclaims how proud and happy she is, only to be awaken from the blinding hang-over and realize that it's actually her son's head that she's raving about and carrying on her staff. In a nutshell, an awesome play. Evohé!
A delightful quick read, but repetitive at times--
This collection of Aesop's fables contains 600 fables, including the classic fables known universall...moreA delightful quick read, but repetitive at times--
This collection of Aesop's fables contains 600 fables, including the classic fables known universally like the boy who cried wolf, the north wind and the sun, the tortoise and the hare, and the ant and the cricket. Never for once was I bored plowing through all 600 fables in 2.5 days, although there were a number of repetitive fables that could have been better consigned to an appendix section or something.
Though simple, short, and overtly corny, the fables exercise a strange power over you as you dip in to read a few fables and realize that you've read like 100 of them. It was also fun to return to a kind of childhood mentality and just sit and simply enjoy the fables as they are without the usual sarcastic, critical attitude of an adult that would spoil the fun of it all. As a result, I rediscovered old fables I had forgotten about and, to my pleasant surprise, found new favorites, e.g.:
The orator Demades was trying to address his Athenian audience. When he failed to get their attention, he asked if he might tell them an Aesop's fable. The audience agreed, so Demades began his story. 'The goddess Demeber, a swallow, and an eel were walking together down the road. When they reached a river, the swallow flew up in the air and the eel jumped into the water.' Demades then fell silent. The audience asked, 'And what about the goddess Demeter?' 'As for Demeter,' Demades replied, 'she is angry at all of you for preferring Aesop's fables to politics!'
An excellent and awesome examination of myths around the world--
In this book, the pioneer of comparative mythology and religion, Joseph Campbell prese...moreAn excellent and awesome examination of myths around the world--
In this book, the pioneer of comparative mythology and religion, Joseph Campbell presents his theory of monomyth, delineating the commonality of myths from all over the world and distilling a formula of myth. Though his psychoanalytic method is at times frown-evoking in the same way a creepy, ranting member of an esoteric cult is, it is still wildly informative and enlightening. As a writer, it made me realize the importance of the mythological dimension of our lives, and appreciate the depth of even a simple primitive myth from, say, the Eskimos. Frankly, I'm now so hopelessly fascinated by all kinds of myths that I will be devouring Campbell's mammoth tetralogy, The Mask of God, on top of actual myths themselves.