On Translating Homer: Last Words by Matthew Arnold

On Translating Homer: Last Words a Lecture Given at OxfordOn Translating Homer: Last Words a Lecture Given at Oxford by Matthew Arnold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Unlike Francis Newman’s screed, Matthew Arnold’s final essay on translating Homer, written in part as a response to Newman, is a calm, well-considered and organized lecture. In 69 pages, he responds to the larger claims of Newman as well as expounding further on advice for future translators of Homer, and translation in general.

I enjoyed his discussion of simplicité vs. simplesse (natural vs. artificial simplicity) As an illustration, he compares Wordsworth’s Michael and Tennyson’s Dora. But, Arnold does suggest that Walter Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel is wanting, especially the beginning of the 6th canto, which I adore. Now, granted, I adore this for reasons that might be different than Scott’s intention (his was mostly about nationalism and love of one’s native land).

Overall, this was a good read but if you had to pick one book on translating Homer, I’d suggest Arnold’s first set of three lectures. They can stand alone and they give great guidance.

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Homeric Translation in Theory and Practice by Francis Newman

Homeric Translation in Theory and PracticeHomeric Translation in Theory and Practice by Francis W. Newman
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This was Francis Newman’s response to a series of three lectures that Matthew Arnold did on translating Homer. Arnold viscously, but with full explanations, attacked Newman’s translation of Homer’s Iliad. While Newman could have provided a calm and nuanced response, he didn’t. This is a 104 page screed against Arnold, making personal attacks and unsubstantiated claims. There is no organization to his thoughts, argument or the entire work. It’s as if he scribbled it down within moments of reading Arnold’s essays and then never went back over what he wrote. It is simply an incoherent, unorganized rant. Almost as if he wanted to prove Arnold’s analysis, Newman provides many at-length translations that are awful to read (pp. 28-30).

This book is good to read in the flow of Arnold’s original three essays and Arnold’s response to Newman’s response. As a whole, they are worth the read together. But this work on its own, as well as Newman’s translations, are best left to history.

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On Translating Homer by Matthew Arnold

On Translating HomerOn Translating Homer by Matthew Arnold
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Matthew Arnold’s “On Translating Homer” was a very enjoyable set of three lectures on what he considers the important aspects of a good translation of Homer as well as his thoughts on various translations that were available by 1861. These lectures are infamous for his fierce attack on Francis Newman’s translation of Homer. While Arnold pulled no punches, his analysis is very good, in my opinion. Newman’s translation was very poor and awkward. He also offers critical, yet well thought out, analyses of several other translations, including those by Cowper, Pope and Chapman.

Arnold lays out four items necessary for a good translation. It must be eminently rapid, plain and direct in syntax and words, plain and direct in substance of thought (i.e. in manner and ideas) and noble.

He says that Milton is wonderful but slow and full of pauses and consciousness. Homer is more direct and flowing. Arnold suggests that Cowper followed Milton’s style in his translation of Homer and severely slowed his translations flow and pacing. Pope’s translation added too much extra flourish, but his pacing was very rapid (p. 14). Arnold says that rhyme is not necessarily evil, but that it can be misused. He suggests Chapman had wonderful rhyming, but it linked sections that shouldn’t have been linked (e.g. bridging two divergent lines of thought, but ones that needed to be linked to keep the rhyme scheme in place). Further on Chapman, Arnold says that while he is plain spoken, fresh, vigorous and rapid, his Elizabethan mindset was too active, too complex than the original Homer was (p. 26-28). Chapman goes overboard, embellishing and adding things that just aren’t there.

In his second lecture, among other things, Arnold says that translation must reproduce the “general effect” of the original (p. 31). He suggests that the ballad-style is not suitable to Homer.

In his third lecture, he tries to evaluate the four translations of Cowper, Pope, Chapman and Newman. He also suggests that hexameter is the best choice for translating Homer. I do not agree as it seems somewhat forced in three long translations that Arnold does on his own.

My favorite translation of Homer so far was the Earl of Derby’s which came out a few years after these lectures. I’d like to know what Arnold thought of that one, but haven’t come across any clues yet.

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Fantastic Power Walk Playlist

I’ve been sick for about a week with a stupid little cold, but it impacted my running. I finally got out today for a power walk and this was the playlist that I listed to. Random shuffle but what a mix … for me!

  • Sugar Kane – Sonic Youth
  • Sabotage – Beastie Boys
  • Links 2 3 4 – Rammstein
  • Animal – Pearl Jam
  • Closer – Nine Inch Nails
  • Divine – Rollins Band
  • Zero – Smashing Pumpkins
  • Butterfly – Crazy Town
  • You Oughta Know – Alanis Morissette
  • 1979 – Smashing Pumpkins
  • Firestarter – The Prodigy
  • Who Was In My Room Last Night? – Butthole Surfers
  • Evenflow – Pearl Jam
  • Sex Type Thing – Stone Temple Pilots

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The Original Frankenstein, edited by Charles E. Robinson

The Original FrankensteinThe Original Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Original Frankenstein was such an amazing read, and a clever way to put a book together. Using original manuscripts, Charles Robinson recreates Mary Shelley’s original full draft of Frankenstein. He also gives us a draft that Mary continued to work on but also saw editorial modifications and about 5,000 new words added by her husband, the poet Percy Shelley. The author also situates these drafts within the creation process of this foundational novel.

The first time I read Frankenstein, it was the one most people see today, a version of the 1831 edition, which was released as one volume. A few years ago, I read the original, 3-volume 1818 edition. There were several drafts of the novel, the first of which is sadly no longer extant. Other early rough drafts are also gone. But, the Bodleian Library at University of Oxford has a draft from 1816-1817 includes Mary’s work along with editorial and content added by her husband, Percy.

Robinson attempts to remove all of Percy’s interventions in the 1816-1817 draft, and presents us with a good-faith recreation of Mary’s original writing. He also includes an edited version of the Bodleian draft. These two drafts are very different from the 1818 and 1831 published editions. The original drafts called for a 2-volume work of 33 chapters instead of the 3-volume 23 chapters version published in 1818. This may seem trivial, but the draft version significantly increases the pacing and drama of the novel. Chapters fly by and the break points seem much more natural. Exciting scenes, like when the creature say “I shall be with you on your marriage night” now end a chapter instead of being in the middle of one.

I prefer Mary’s original draft. It is easier to read, more visceral, fast-paced yet still engaged and reflective. At times, Percy’s embellishments add too many words or melodramatic phrasing that slows the pacing and obfuscates Mary’s original intentions. At other times, his editorial input makes the novel more readable. As I see it, Percy acted like a modern editor. He did not write Frankenstein, but massaged it (both good and bad), along with Mary, into the final product we have today.

I really enjoyed reading this book and putting a 3rd and 4th version of this novel under my hat. Each time I read it, I get a little more out of it. This is partly due to revisiting an old friend. But it’s also because I’ve added new cultural knowledge since the previous reading. Let me give an example. The creature, who is literate and philosophical in Shelley’s novel, unlike the monster from the awful movie adaptations, stumbles across three books in the woods near a place where he has been sheltering. They were Milton’s Paradise Lost, Goethe’s Sorrows of Werter (originally, the Sorrows of Young Werther), and a volume from Plutarch’s Lives. When I first read Frankenstein, I’d heard of Milton (via Star Trek) but not the others. The second time I read the novel, I’d read some of Milton, but was still unfamiliar with the other two books. This time, I’ve read even more Milton and have digested Goethe’s book and parts of Plutarch. Knowledge of their themes enhances the impact of Frankenstein for me. The ideas of creation, longing, meaning and the greater world enhance the creature’s humanity and help one relate better to his situation, and that of Frankenstein. These are books that Mary and Percy Shelley read and impacted them and their writing. Encountering them helps put the reader into the same boat as the author, as it were.

This book was definitely worth the 5 stars I gave it.

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Hours of Idleness by Lord Byron

Hours of Idleness: A Series of Poems, Original and TranslatedHours of Idleness: A Series of Poems, Original and Translated by George Gordon Byron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed reading Byron’s first book of published poetry, Hours of Idleness. I’d read a few of these items in a collected works edition, but it was nice to see it all together. I simply love reading Byron’s poetry. Even if I don’t always recall the specific work, the joy I feel when reading is such a treat. A purely visceral treat.

A Fragment is one of my favorite early pieces. It was also included in Fugitive Pieces, his very first collection of poetry that was almost completely destroyed after it was printed. I enjoyed The Tear, though it felt a little like teenage angst poetry. Oscar of Alva (p. 37) was a great story of two brothers and a bride. “Thoughts suggested by a College Examination” (p. 103) was very cool and true. Fact memorization vs understanding and knowledge are two very different things. The “Essay on Newstead Abbey” (p. 128) has a note about Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, which was so timely given that I just read about that in The English Library before 1700. “Stanzas” (p. 156) had great flow and a nice “sadness” about it. I especially liked the 4th stanza.

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The English Library before 1700, ed. by Wormald & Wright

The English Library Before 1700The English Library Before 1700 by Francis Wormald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The English Library before 1700 is an informative and exciting collection of essays about the production, dissemination and collection of books in England from the early mediaeval era to around 1700.

Chapter 3 taught me the difference between vellum (calf) and parchment (sheep). Paper was imported into England around 1300 but it wasn’t until around 1494 that domestic production began. It was fascinating to read about Abbot Trittenheim, who railed against the adoption of paper, saying that writing on paper would only last 200 years while on skin it would last 1,000 or more. He might be right, based on the beautiful condition of older manuscripts, but it was just funny to see the same argument play throughout history (tablets to scrolls, scrolls to bound volumes, paper, printing presses, and now digital). This chapter also covered the cool process by which copyists worked to produce documents: how the material was prepared, folded, written on, rotated, dried, flipped, written, dried, and then incorporated into a final book. Also, as one might expect, some of the illustrators were illiterate. Some of the mistakes in old manuscripts would easily have been noticed and corrected if the text could have been read or proofread.

Chapter 4 covers the transition of books from solely in the monasteries to universities around the 13th century. Universities demanded more books for teaching and books that could be produced quicker, cost less, and be smaller in size for easier transportation.

Chapter 5 discusses the contents of mediaeval libraries. All had religious works. All contained Virgil’s works. Most contained items from Ovid and Horace. There were pockets on grammar, logic, science, medicine, history and a few pieces of prose. Interestingly, most items were in Latin. There was little Greek or Hebrew texts at this point. I also liked that we know of some works only because they were referenced in later works. We know of quotes from Pliny’s Natural History via a 3rd century AD manuscript by Solinus.

Chapter 7 covers the preservation of the classics, which are defined as Latin profane texts that date before AD 200. These texts were widely available prior to AD 500 and again after 1400. During the intervening years, they were preserved, sometimes in single copies across Europe. Italy, Ireland and Britain helped preserve many of these works. Monasteries helped but not always as effectively as private and university collections. Sometimes works were saved by pure luck and collectors’ taste. No one ever had a project to pull together a set of all the classics (p. 147).

Chapter 8 discusses the dispersal of libraries in the 16th century. Books were moved from monasteries to colleges, starting under the rule of Henry VIII. This was part of an effort by the king to seize property and money from the churches after breaking with Rome. Some major cathedral libraries were broken up under Henry. However, it was much worse under his successor, Edward VI. Books, mostly prayer and religious service items, were destroyed that weren’t in sync with the new Book of Common Prayer that was finalized in 1550 (p. 165). By Elizabeth I, the purges had stopped and attempts to preserve and reacquire lost and destroyed manuscripts began.

Chapter 9 is dear to my heart as a bibliophile. It discusses the Elizabethan Society of Antiquarians and the formation of the Cotton library. Robert Bruce Cotton was born in 1571 and he gathered an amazing collection. There are many items that people associate with him, such as the Coronation Book of Charles V and the Lindisfarne Gospels. But there were so much more: many Greek, Latin and Anglo Saxon books. His library included the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, documents from 60 BC (Caesar’s invasion of Britain) up to 1154. It also included the only surviving copies of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Beowulf, and a 1215 exemplification of the Magna Carta. The Cotton library was the basis for the British Library’s collection.

Chapters 10 and 11 cover the libraries of Cambridge and Oxford, respectively. It was interesting to read about chained libraries, where books were physically chained to a wall or shelf and could only be used at that spot, and how they eventually became unchained, in Cambridge around 1627 and in Oxford by the late 18th century. As books became cheaper to produce and smaller in size, the need to chain them started to go away. Further, as the nobility and gentry started to send their children to university, these students expected and felt entitled to having what they had at home. Their families personal collections were never chained and were beautifully displayed.

Overall, an excellent book, in pieces and as a whole project.

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