A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters

A Morbid Taste for Bones (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #1)My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A guilty pleasure that I’m sure Brother Cadfael would relish and embrace. As fun and quick a read as any Sherlock Holmes.

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The Essential Homer (Stanley Lombardo, transl.)

The Essential HomerMy rating: 1 of 5 stars

I love Homer, and I love reading translations of Homer. This is the first one I think I ever gave so low a rating. I do feel kind of bad about it, and initially changed it to two stars, but then dropped it back to one. It’s primarily about the translator’s choices. First, he chose to eliminate or spice up the many repetitive items in the original Greek text, things like epithets for people and adjectives for events (e.g. rosy-fingered dawn). I think that the repetition of epithets and phrases work. Indeed, they are likely due to the poems originally being oral works as the introduction states, but they continue to add value in a written work, especially one of this length. They provide markers for the reader/listener and I think help build excitement and drama. I recently read Caroline Alexander’s translation of the Iliad and her use of repetition that is in the original text was beautiful. I highly recommend her Iliad.

Another choice the narrator made, and one that might be useful for some, is to bring colloquial American language to the text. Curses, slang, etc. pop up. Now, I don’t want crazy archaic words and seriously twisted Miltonian phrasing, but the contemporary slang just doesn’t work for me. Perhaps it would be useful to get young people excited by a text that can be daunting, overwhelming and at times boring. For whatever reason, I took to Homer when I read the Odyssey in high school and I’ve been with him ever since. Maybe some of these words will hook new people who then might explore the text deeper through other translators and the original text.

Demon Seed by Dean Koontz

Demon SeedMy rating: 1 of 5 stars

Skimmed. Awful. Sorry.

Part of the problem was that this was a rewrite of the original 1970s version, which I did not realize. Based on the writing, I’m not sure if the original would have been any better.  But, I am sure that the rewrite was weak and full of pop culture hooks and a POV strategy to help sell it.  This is like the worst of the 2000-present efforts that “reboot” an old idea just to cash in.

Again, I guess I should say, “sorry”.

The Simultaneous Man by Ralph H. Blum

The Simultaneous ManMy rating: 2 of 5 stars

A bit dated and it felt more like an episode of Night Gallery (Rod Serling’s series after Twilight Zone) than a novel. The characters were never really developed enough to care too much. But, I read it to the end because I wanted to know how it turned out.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, W. S. Merwin (transl.)

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A New Verse TranslationMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

The last time I read this book, it was Simon Armitage’s translation. I’d said at the time I wanted to give that version four stars but the translation just wasn’t that great for me. It didn’t flow and there were some poor word choices.

Now, finally, I can give four stars to W S. Merwin’s version. This is how Gawain should read. A fast story with flowing language that doesn’t get in the way of the tale. I read this in one sitting and took time to glance at the Middle English on each facing page. A perfect companion for the evening.

Constellation Myths: With Aratus’s Phaenomena, transl. by Robin Hard

Constellation Myths: With Aratus's PhaenomenaMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fun and fast read that has found a place on my reference shelf for future use. I loved reading the summaries of the astronomical myths by Eratosthenes, the 3rd director of the Great Library at Alexandria. Sadly, his writings are lost, but two sets of summaries of his work survive and give us insight into the myths surrounding the constellations. Hyginus also wrote on astronomy and myths, using Eratosthenes as his primary source but also drawing from other places. The introduction was great, as they often are in these Oxford World’s Classics editions.

One neat fact regarding one of my favorite constellations, Orion, talks about its relationship with the constellation Scorpios. “Since the Scorpion rises as Orion sets, it could be imagined that Orion is being pursued by it, and it was this thought that inspired the myth in which he was said to have been killed by a huge scorpion, which was sent against him by Earth or perhaps by Artemis” (p. xii). This process was called catasterism, by which people or things were set in the sky as constellations (p. xii).

Another neat technique described was using the twelve constellations of the zodiac to determine how much time has elapsed at night. “For since six signs of the zodiac rise each night, and six set irrespective of the time of year, this enables the observer to form an accurate estimate of the stages of the night” (p. xxii).

The book also covers the five planets the Greek knew that they thought of as wandering stars. Their name derivations are so cool. The Brilliant (Phainon) was said to be Zeus (Jupiter to the Romans). The second was The Radiant (Phaethon) and it takes its name from Helios or Cronos (Saturn). The third was Ares (Mars), the fourth Aphrodite (Venus) and lastly, Hermes (Mercury) (pp. 130-132).

The Milky Way has its own amazing origin mythology. It was called Galaxia (the milky circle). “It was not possible for sons of Zeus to have any share in the honours of the sky unless they had been suckled at Hera’s breast; and that is why Hermes, so they say, brought Heracles along after his birth and placed him at Hera’s breast, for him to be suckled at it; but when Hera became aware of it, she thrust him away, and the rest of her milk spilled out accordingly to make up the milky circle” (p. 133).

The Iliad by Homer (Caroline Alexander, translator)

The Iliad: A New Translation by Caroline AlexanderMy rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an amazing translation of the Iliad. I’ve read many different translations, new and old, and this one wins hands down. It’s mind-boggling that this is the FIRST full translation published by a woman. I can’t believe it took so long but Caroline Alexander’s effort was worth the wait. This is not to say that all the other translations are bad (though some are), but hers brought this epic tale back to me again with new eyes and simply transformed it. As an added bonus, her introduction was excellent.

I took so long to read it since I savored each line. I pulled out a copy of the Iliad I had in classical Greek with a Latin translation and read it along with many of her lines. She often kept Homer’s repetitions. Some translators choose other words or try to change things around, since it can seem to be repetitive or cumbersome. But, looking at the Greek, the text backs her up. Hers is not a literal, simplistic translation. She adds her tone and flourish to the work, but she lets the original verses flow off the page. Homer was a storyteller, an oral one, and the repetition of lines, reuse of epithets and cadence are essential to sustaining understanding and building drama.

I have to say that I so enjoy Homer’s metaphors and similes. I smiled at some and was wowed by others. I was taken by the opening lines of Book 11: “Dawn from her bed arose by the side of good Tithonos, to bring light of day to deathless gods and mortal men.” And the concepts of guest friends and hospitality give one hope (6.212-231, 11.777-780, 18.385-390).

Someone once called the great poet Sappho the 10th Muse. I might go so far as to call Caroline Alexander the 11th.