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I read this memoir of Siberian exploration because of Akira Kurosawa's superb film "Dersu Usala" which was based on it. Evidently it is or was a prettI read this memoir of Siberian exploration because of Akira Kurosawa's superb film "Dersu Usala" which was based on it. Evidently it is or was a pretty well known book in Russia, but it reads exactly like a tale of adventure and discovery from a century earlier in the United States. It's a lot like reading about the Lewis & Clark expedition except that the explorers feel no shame in acknowledging how much the native saved their asses. V.K. Arseniev considered himself great friends with his Goldi guide Dersu. There's a lot of respect and admiration in his writing, as much for Dersu's determination to live just past the edge of the encroaching modern world as for the native wisdom without which Arseniev and the rest of his corps of discovery would have perished on several occasions....more
Because of the era in which this book was written I can forgive a lot of its conspicous flaws like Wolfram's pervasive and alarming misogyny, the abunBecause of the era in which this book was written I can forgive a lot of its conspicous flaws like Wolfram's pervasive and alarming misogyny, the abundance of irrelevant details he is constantly tossing in that regularly derail the story, and the perplexing attitudes and ideas of every single character. In some ways, each of those issues is exactly what makes the book worth reading, because it puts the reader a little in tune with a fairly unfamiliar epoch in human history. However, the fact that I just finished the the brilliant Don Quixote & the muted Song of Roland and have been reading Ludovico Ariosto's stunning Orlando Furioso at the same time as Parzival has given me an interesting perspective on modes of storytelling in the domain of tales of knight-errantry. It's no real surprise that the later works are tighter and more nuanced, with fewer inapt digressions, nor that the attitudes of all the authors are informed by the times in which they lived, but beyond the small education one can gain from the earlier two books there is little pure pleasure to be found for a contemporary reader in either The Song of Roland or Parzival. Even Cervantes' occassional dip into unironic didacticism and his desire to reform the culture of his time is not nearly so heavy-handed as Wolfram von Eschenbach's esteem of the prevailing notions of knightly and maidenly virtues that were already a major part of his world. Parzival must be given its due for preserving some of the concerns of early-13th century man and the accompanying Grail legends in print, but there isn't a great deal of entertainment to be found in a book extolling weeping and shame and ruinous love and abuse of women where all of the lauded heroes are incapable of thinking for themselves.
I'm glad I read it, but it was quite a slog, and I'm not really certain I know what all happened. The sections about Gawain are brutally slow. The bits about Anfortas, the Fisher King, are really interesting, but then the denouement of his story is very anticlimactic. Oh, Wolfram, you just aren't that great a storyteller.
If you desire direct contact with some of the earliest writing about King Arthur and the Holy Grail and don't mind being dumbfounded or offended half the time, Parzival is a work for you. If you mostly desire to read a great adventure book about knights-errant of the sort that Cervantes so enticingly lampoons in Don Quixote, check out Orlando Furioso. Ariosto manages to keep track of five times as many characters ten times better than Wolfram von Eschenbach, to praise strong women and let them steal the scene, to cram as much enjoyment into a canto as Wolfram offers in his whole book, and to leave the reader always wanting much more....more
Fascinating story, but for some strange reason not a very compelling read. There was an episode of NOVA that Dava Sobel participated in that came outFascinating story, but for some strange reason not a very compelling read. There was an episode of NOVA that Dava Sobel participated in that came out about the same time as Longitude which was almost as informative and, in my opinion, better than the book....more
I read "Lysistrata", but the other two works in this Penguin collection, I'm sorry to say, never engaged me. I'm sure there would be more to pull me iI read "Lysistrata", but the other two works in this Penguin collection, I'm sorry to say, never engaged me. I'm sure there would be more to pull me in in the original language, but alas, I'm not that interested in comedy plays in English that aren't a great deal more complex. I realize that I don't get more than half of the references in any of the plays, but they are broad farces either way, so not particularly my thing.
I will say of Alan H. Sommerstein's translation that it is 100% modern. It reads exactly like a late 20th century play in that there is no rhythm and no subtlety, so that most of the attempts at surprise or irony are pretty well foundered. I participated in a reading of the play in which we each read from different translations, & I think I preferred all of the others to the Sommerstein version, even the old rhyming verse translation that one of our players was using. I don't know Ancient Greek, of course, so I can only speculate, but I imagine that most of the sexual puns & bawdiness which made "Lysistrata" a classic were based in innuendos and allusion. Even if that isn't so, I enjoyed the approach taken by other translators in chosing roundabout or nudging ways of telling jokes & was not much of a fan of Sommerstein's flat, matter-of-fact deliveries. I suppose that that's the modern way, going for the shock value of having all the character's speaking as explicitly as possible, but I'm confused as to how any modern adult is really capable of being shocked when that sort of thing proliferates everywhere these days. Better to be teased and titillated than to have the whole kit & caboodle set unceremoniously in front of you, I always say.
As to the play "Lysistrata", it's original and amusing, if not very deep. I liked it, but I don't have a lot more to say. A couple of readings of it was plenty, and I'm sure I'd enjoy seeing it performed (though preferrably with a different translation & staged without all the notorious foam rubber penis & vagina costumes that are apparently requisite in most modern productions). A good director could undoubtedly do a lot with it....more
The translator W.S. Merwin makes the intriguing statement in his introduction that when he thinks about the language of this classic work he thinks ofThe translator W.S. Merwin makes the intriguing statement in his introduction that when he thinks about the language of this classic work he thinks of water and light. Unfortunately his translation did not convey such aesthetics to me, but I'd still choose this copy over a rhyming translation.
The earliest of the surviving chansons de geste that tell the stories of Charlemagne's knights, a piece contemporary with Beowulf, this epic poem contains a lot of melodramatic pathos, a lot of repetition, a lot of brutal death and dismemberment, and a host of carboard characters who are difficult to identify with if you do not share their religious hysteria. I've read plenty of books along similar lines and liked them a lot, but this one struck me as particularly stiff.
Later troubadours and authors would expand the legends of Charlemagne's 12 peers and humanize them more than this book does. The Song of Roland is worth reading if you're curious about the origins of the literary Roland/Orlando figure and some of his companions in arms, but it is far from being the most interesting book about this character....more
Exactly the kind of summary of the history of Western philosophic thought up until about the middle of the 20th century that most people could get thrExactly the kind of summary of the history of Western philosophic thought up until about the middle of the 20th century that most people could get through quickly and rather painlessly. Organized a little like a textbook, which makes it a good reference book as well. An excellent Western Philosophy 101 course....more
The translation flows really well, but after Books 1&2 I'm afraid I started to lose interest. I might have to skip over some of the more superfluoThe translation flows really well, but after Books 1&2 I'm afraid I started to lose interest. I might have to skip over some of the more superfluous myths in the middle so that I can get to some of the Homeric stuff. After awhile Jove's rapes & Juno's punishing of his victims is just not that interesting anymore, and stories about the origins of different flowers and trees and natural phenomena aren't very exciting....more