Heroides by Ovid (Harold Cannon, transl.)

HeroidesMy rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have two translations of Ovid’s Heroides. This is the second one I bought and the first one I read. There’s no drama, it was just that I found the second copy at a great bookstore in Saratoga Springs (Lyrical Ballad) and since I’d been reading so much Greek and Latin lately, I wanted to read this piece of Ovid right away. My first copy was on my to-read bookshelf by my bed at home. Anyway, my state of mind, a need for a book to read and a fantastic cover called out to me. So, out came a few dollars and into my purse the book went.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Harold Cannon’s translation. I enjoyed his introduction and noted his advice that “Pace is everything in reading Ovid; he should be swallowed whole and digested afterward” (p. 10). I’d read a translation of the Metamorphoses awhile back and reflecting on it now, Cannon is spot on. As I read the Heroides, his rule stayed true.

I also loved his introduction to each letter, which set the stage. Sometimes I knew the story, other times I didn’t. No matter, I still learned something new and fun with each letter’s introduction and I couldn’t wait to read the translated letter to a mythical love.

I had several favorites letters. Oenone’s to Paris (V) was excellent. Hypsipyle’s to Jason was amazing for how she tore into him for not returning to her and their child after he secured the golden fleece. “Perhaps you wanted to return to me / But found yourself denied by winds and sea; / And yet no wind prevents a letter due– / That much, at least, I have deserved from you” (VI.5-8, p. 47). Dido tears into Aeneas regarding how he left Dido now and his wife earlier at Troy. Aeneas only brought out his father and son. Dido writes “Before we met, you were a liar too; / I’m not the first to be deceived by you. / Where is the mother of the son you own? / Her husband left her, and she died alone” (VII.81-84, p. 55).

I liked Hermione to Orestes’s (VIII) letter. Ariadne to Theseus is also good in how she calls out his cold heart after he abandoned her: “Like rock or adamant the heart you own; / Its hardness would outdo the hardest stone” (X.109-110, p. 74). Medea’s anger comes out clearly when she says to Jason: “I saved him for another’s warm embrace; / She had the prize, although I ran the race” (XII.173-174, p. 87).

The two exchanges between Leander and Hero were amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed the backstory and the connection with the Bride of Abydos, from Byron, and the mention of the Hellespont. That ties into Pliny the Elder’s Natural History when he discusses the distance between Sestos and Abydos, where Hero and Leander lived. The distance, if you are interested, is seven stadia (Pliny 4.18). The letter from Leander to Hero was also great for me because I love when astronomy is mixed in with the poetry: “It’s summer now; how will I find the seas / Plagued by Arcturus, Goat, and Pleiades?” (XVIII.187-188)!

Interestingly, the one letter that originally drew me to the Heroides, Penelope’s to Odysseus, wasn’t my favorite. It was good but not great for me.

Finally, one interesting comment. When I first started reading his translation, I scribbled a small note that said “Heroic couplets never work.” A day later, I scribbled underneath that note “except when they do.”

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Roman Poetry: from the Republic to the Silver Age, translated by Dorothea Wender

Roman Poetry: From the Republic to the Silver AgeMy rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dorothea Wender is just fabulous. Her wit and cutting scholarship bring me such joy. I can see why some of the more stodgy classicists might have taken issue with her, but in my opinion, she nails it again and again. Top notch marks for her. Well worth your time in reading this volume (and her translation of Hesiod and Theognis).

This collection of Roman poetry was a joy to read, even if at times I wasn’t taken (nor was she) by some of the authors. Her opening paragraph of the introduction just nailed the differences between Greek and Roman specialists. I laughed out loud! Later, in the same introduction, she talks about the difficulty of translation as Roman readers would know quite a bit of mythology that many today aren’t familiar with. It made me think about the cultural knowledge we share today but how that base of knowledge has become much more framgmented and divided in our digital age. Many of us simply don’t share the same sources we did just 20 years ago.

I enjoyed Catullus’s poem 51, an adaptation of Sappho’s poem 31. I thought Wender’s translation of Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura was better than the one I read by Stallings (especially lines 1.62-84 and 3.870-887). Her comments on Virgil struck me, especially with regard to his Georgics. She says Cato will tell you how to farm but Virgil makes you want to farm (p. 47). I liked her thoughts on Horace and Ovid. On Ovid, she notes that he is easy to read but not a good re-read (p. 101). However, she does tone that down by saying he is a good storyteller (p. 101), and I agree. Her translation of the Metamorphoses is great, almost as lovely as the one I read by Charles Martin. And, I wholly agree with her negative thoughts regarding Martial and Juvenal.

Spend some time with this volume.

Star Trek: The New Voyages, edited by Sondra Marshak & Myrna Culbresth

Star Trek: The New Voyages (Star Trek Adventures, #2)My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Predominately, this is fan fiction at its worst, with the plots counting on fans to fill in the missing effort. Sexism is also pretty flagrant throughout many of the stories. However, there were a few high spots in this collection. Interestingly enough, the two stories I’d highlight are the ones I remember loving as a young reader of this book.

Ruth Berman’s “Visit to a weird planet planet revisited” was cute, enjoyable and in the vein of the original series (with a nod to Mirror, Mirror). I wish it had been expanded more … it needed some more pages to fill it out. The best piece, hands down, was the final story, “Mind-Sifter”, written by Shirley S. Maiewski. A most excellent story that developed a great idea and explored some strong emotions and situations. I thought it could have ended about 15 pages earlier, but the last four or five pages made for a very nice ending. One other story that I enjoyed was “The Hunting” by Doris Beetem.

1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline

1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization CollapsedMy rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting read that could have been edited down a bit more. It felt, especially during the first three chapters, to be like a PBS / NatGeo program that kept reiterating the same point over and over again. But, I enjoyed it and wanted to finish it. The ending made it worth it for me, in that he notes that while all societies can and have collapsed in the past, we today can “take steps to fix things, rather than simply passively accept things as they occur” (p. 179). It reminded me of Asimov’s Harry Seldon in the Foundation series. Seldon was an historian who realized the galactic empire would collapse but he worked to make the collapse and rebirth of a new empire less painful and shorter in time span.

Pope’s Translation of Homer’s Iliad: Books I, VI, XXII, XXIV

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve wanted to read more of Pope’s translations of Homer and I was glad to have a chance with this little academic book that chose four books from the Iliad and added notes and an introduction. I have to say that the heroic couplet looks fun when you read a few lines here and there, but for a sustained piece of epic poetry, it became cumbersome and got in the way of the story. Yes, there was a rhythmic flow, but after awhile, all I could hear was the rhythm, not the content. Further, as many have noted, Pope embellished upon Homer, adding things that just weren’t in the text. It makes for a good yarn but after having read the Iliad several times, I felt that it didn’t need these extras to make it good.

I’m glad I’ve read it and now I can go back to other translations and explore new ones. I’m looking forward to reading Caroline Alexander’s recent translation of the Iliad (2015).

The Poetical Works of Alexander Pope: With His Last Corrections, Additions, and Improvements

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good collection of most of Pope’s works, including original work, critical pieces, translations and imitations. One has to love Pope if only for his sense of humor and biting satire. I found a great Pope quote in the preface: “For what I have published, I can only hope to be pardoned; but for what I have burned, I deserve to be praised” (p. xviii). I laughed out loud and smiled inside.

While he is mostly known for his satire and his Homer translation, he also can speak plain truths. One I found touching was in his Ode for music on St. Cecilia’s Day: “Music the fiercest grief can charm, / And fate’s severest rage disarm: / Music can soften pain to ease, / And make despair and madness please” (Stanza VII: 118-121; p. 101, vol. i).

This collection includes some of the phrases he coined, primarily from his Essay on Criticism. These include “A little learning is a dangerous thing: / Drink Deep; or taste not the Pierian spring: / There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain / And drinking largely sobers us again” (lines 215-218; p. 129). A little more complex and complete than what we usually here of that phrase today. Later, in the same essay, we find “to err is human, to forgive divine” (line 525, p. 131) and “for fools rush in where angels fear to tread” (line 625, p. 135).

Overall, his work is so intertwined with the classical world: translating, imitating, analyzing and critiquing so many of the ancient authors including Homer, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Statius, etc. I was taken by his translation of the first book of Statius’s Thebaid. I didn’t like his translations of selections from Ovid: the Fable of Dryope (Metamorphoses, Book 9) and Vertumnus and Pomona (Metamorphoses, Book 14). They were too verbose for me and seemed to embellish more than necessary. Part of it relates to keeping his meter and rhyming scheme going. [For Ovid, I really enjoyed Charles Martin’s very recent translation.] No doubt, Pope would have been a hip-hop star today for his cutting analysis and unbelievable rhymes. But for some of the classics he’s translated, there are better authors (past and present) to choose from. For satire and critiques, Pope’s a good source. For knowledge about who’s who in the times, he is invaluable, especially with his great Dunciad.

I wondered if we lack today what Pope had, i.e. a concentrated classical education that “everyone” pulls from and binds us together. Pop culture provides us with that somewhat, but it’s a shallow and ephemeral form of knowledge. Then again, this shared cultural base I saw in Pope, and indeed something I’ve been educated in myself, is not really universal or widespread. It’s a rarified form of culture, generated, consumed, and often valued by a very small portion of the population: primarily white, educated, upper class men. While I value this core of knowledge and indeed immerse myself in it, one thing I know is that it isn’t the only knowledge and it isn’t a preferred knowledge, just one base of many to explore.

I am very happy to have worked through his works and am sure I will return to portions of it in the future.