My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Classicist Dorothea Wender’s translation of Hesiod is spectacular. Even while she says his
“Theogony” is a bit boring and not written in the wonderful style of “Works and Days”, I think her talent as a translator makes this piece on a creation myth shine. Now, I’m a huge fan of mythology and the origins of various beings, so I would have liked the Theogony no matter what. But, Wender used her skill to make it enjoyable and not simply a seemingly unending onslaught of names.
When she turns her eye to Hesiod’s “Works and Days,” she is magnificent. Just reading the first stanza, I can immediately tell that this is a much stronger piece of poetry, as Wender stated in her introduction. Hesiod stressed the need to be prepared and work hard. I enjoyed his description of the five ages of man: Golden, Silver, Bronze, the demi-gods, and Iron (us). The demi-gods were the race of heroes who have great epics and stories written about them, including those who fought in the Trojan War.
Hesiod offers advice and guidance throughout. He sagely writes: “But he who neither thinks himself nor learns / From others, is a failure as a man” (p. 68, lines 96-97). Valid then, even more valid in our present times. His advice on farming is tied to astronomy, so that one can tell when to plant, harvest, etc. based on which planets and constellations are rising or setting, visible or not, in the sky. He tells sailors when to avoid voyages, saying “Gales of all winds rage when the Pleiades, / Pursued by violent Orion, plunge / Into the clouded sea” (p. 78, lines 619-621). He marries my love of astronomy and mythology with tidbits like this.
Turning to Theognis, I could have done without him. I didn’t like what he had to say, and it had nothing to do with the translation. To quote from Wender’s introduction to his Elegies, “Unfortunately, as his personality is revealed in the poems, Theognis is not at all likeable. He seems to have been a savage, paranoid, bigoted, bitter, narrow, pompous, self-pitying person” (p. 92). I cannot help but agree with her.
Wender’s notes were wonderful and illuminating. I know she probably upset some stodgy white male classicists sitting in their cloistered rooms with her tone, but her skill and passion as a translator brought life to these words without changing the meaning of the original text. I enjoyed reading her comments, alternate translations and understandings about the text.
Overall, I’d give the Hesiod a 5, the content (not the translation) of Theognis’s Elegies a 1, the Notes a 5 and to Dorothea Wender, a 5+. Well done and well worth my time.