|Jan/Feb 2009 Reviews & Interviews|
The following are the author's opinions and not those of Eclectica Magazine or its editors.
With the exception of Shakespeare who transcends his medium, everything after the brilliant literary contributions of Greece and Rome can be said to represent a paraphrase. Virtually all our western literary formats and devices were developed during these two crucial periods. Take a look at Homer's Odyssey; one way to view it as an extended narrative and precursor to the novel. When it is translated into prose form without all its beautiful, archaic fluff, (consider the interminably trite number of rosy fingered dawns), it reads like a magico-realist novel full of flash backs, shape shifters, god-like ghosts and creative twists. The curse of Homer's Odyssey online is represented by the ubiquitously infamous Samuel Butler translation coupling with the eye strain occasioned by staring for hours at the glare off a terminal monitor. A better way to go is to read one book or section at a time prefaced by reading a little contemporary commentary on the section in question. The MIT Media Lab provides free texts for a number of ancient Greek and Roman authors. Be aware thought that some of its links are inactive due to a crash that seems to have happened years ago.
The old Perseus Project is sponsored by Tufts University and specializes in Greek and Roman material—or at least it once did. In the past, numerous links were available as well as a data search system. The project linked to museums and other important resource centers and English translations of important Greek and Roman texts made this an excellent resource. It attempted to provide archaeological, art history, literary and historical resources dealing with the post Mycenaean ancient world. One can only applaud their attempt but puzzle over the question regarding how successful they were or are at organizing and presenting it. Unfortunately, access to the material is now often convoluted, strangely organized and frustrating. The last few times I have visited this site I have encountered numerous difficulties. Foremost among them has been their tendency to give a short example of a particular work and then inform you where you can buy it. You are also told that you may not get the particular translation you were requesting. This is inexcusable. The right translation means everything. Not getting it can be a disaster. My guess is that the grant money for this medusa-like project may have dried up. It now drifts like a derelict ghost ship on the electronic ether. You can link to some of its admirable resources through different sites such as The Internet Classics Library. On the other hand, I may have seriously misjudged this site but if I come away from it with this sort of reaction, I bet a lot of others do so as well.
How the Iliad or Odyssey might have sounded to its original audience is an interesting question. Hear an attempt to render the ancient Greek of the Iliad for yourself and be melodiously surprised. An added bonus awaits when you click on the "Wired For Books" home page. A holiday treasure trove of takes from Don Swaim's interviews with major English speaking writers is present. I began this review section with Homer for a reason as one of my own life changing experiences was occasioned by reading Christopher Logue's peripatetic interpretation of the Iliad called "War Music."
It is amazing that a minor, quasi-religious, spoken word tale created approx. 1100- 800 B.C. remains so vitally important today. Homer's Odyssey has provided inspiration for writers from Aristotle, Virgil and Dante to Ezra Pound, Robinson Jeffers and James Joyce. Perhaps, you are a better intellectual mountaineer than I am and can successfully glacier your way through Joyce's Finneganís Wake. The mental frostbite I encountered in trying to read through it was almost terminal. Ulysses however is manageable. I would argue that it is precisely the organizational influence of Homer that kept Joyce on track. Joyce's Ulysses represents one of the pinnacles of twentieth century literary art. There are millions of sites in English dealing with Joyce. When it comes to describing Homer's influence on Joyce, as seen in the development of Ulysses, Gerry Carlin and Mair Evans have succeeded in a readable, remarkably cogent, well organized, memorable outline. Like Picasso, Joyce's miraculous accomplishments were predicated on a mastery of well established, traditional forms. A reading of such Joyce classics as The Dubliners proves the point.
It's strange to find myself including a site on Robinson Jeffers in this review. Homer's world view was human-centric. His gods tended to be fallible creatures distinguished from us merely by their beauty, or lack of it, together with super human abilities. There are a number of ways to be influenced by an author as important to us as Homer. It may be though that to be negatively influenced can result in a bond just as strong or stronger than the one forged through infatuation. Jeffers falls into a kind of love-hate relationship regarding Homer. He was intimately influenced by classic Greek and Roman writers all his life. It is to them he must be compared. When that comparison is made, Jeffers emerges with his high reputation still intact. Nature and our relationship to it represented one of his most important themes. After searching through over 30 sites, one of the best, most inclusive short essays I found regarding him was offered up on the Cliff Notes site. I had to laugh because Cliff Notes seems to have an unjustifiably bad rap. I, for one, once read their products like comic books in conjunction with the Harvard Classics and found the exercise more entertaining as a pastime than numerous university courses.