Exploring the stacks at Barnes & Noble

(My wife and I love to sit in the stacks of Barnes and Noble on weekends.  She takes notes for her psychological thriller, and I hit the Ancient History section.    Vente Green Tea latte, two pumps for her, and for me an Awake hot tea.  This blog entry has notes and interesting things I came across. )

Note*  Looking for a  book on Troy.  I found a B&N employee with a shaved head and big smile.  I will call him Tri-pon.    He looked up several books on the subject on his computer, and asked if I wanted real history or science fiction

“No, real history.  Though the sci-fi writers do a good job with alternate history.”   Why did I say that…true…but why did I say it just the same?

He takes me 3 or four shelves over and can’t seem to find what he was looking for.   “We got a shipment in back…let me check.”

While he is gone, I scan the shelves and find an interesting book.  It is a Time travel…NOT to ancient Troy, but time travel of a different sort.  The title of the book was Q by Evan Mandery.  I am intrigued, the dust jacket tells me it’s about a man who wants to marry a girl named Q and his future self comes back in time to tell him not to do it.  I want to read it, and take a copy.   If anyone wants a review ask me on FACEBOOK.

Tri-pon comes back and hands me a copy of THE GATES OF TROY by Glyn Iliffe.  Nice.    A story told from the perspective of Odysseus.  Looks interesting and I decide to put that on my list as well.

He frowned and said: “Are you interested in a new translation of the Iliad?”

For some reason in a book store, anything NOT on the shelf sounds mysterious and magical. 

“Sure.  That sounds great.”  And then  spouted out such names as: “Is it Fitzgerald?  Fagles?”  I’m not sure if I got the names right, but I remembered these guys translated something…at that particular moment I could not remember and I was never very good with instant recall.  What’s more were any of those guys still alive? 

“I’ll be right back,” he said with a big smile.

Note*  A Google search later that day tells me I was right on the names…25 points and I move on to the bonus round.

Cover of Stephen Mitchell's book

He comes back with a book, The Iliad Translated by Stephen Mitchell.

Now, this is different.  The cover says it’s a NEW translation.  I have to admit something; I have a hard time with reading The Odyssey and the Iliad, especially translations.  No…I am not saying I prefer reading it in the original Greek, for I would fail miserably at it.  I am saying the language (even if it is in English) always seems a little stilted, and I admit my patience has been taxed by making my way through various versions.

You can try Pope:

The man for widom’s various arts renown’d,

Long exercise din woes, O Muse! Resound;

Who, when his arms had wrought the

Destined fall

Of sacred Troy, and razed her heaven-built wall,

You can try Fitzgerald:

Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story

Of that man skilled in all ways of contending,

The wanderer, harried for years on end,

After he plundered the strong hold

On the proud height of Troy.

 

Why couldn't a scene like this have really taken place? A warrior walking with two young people on a spring day. Found this photo on a Chinese web site.

It’s not to say translating something is easy.  In Homer’s time poetry was sung in a dactylic hexameter beat…six beats in every line, each measure a triplet of syllables with the beat on the first line:

For all you drummers out there…

Dum-da-da

Dum-da-da

Dum-da-da

This sounds GREAT in Ancient Greek (which I consider fluid and a beautiful).  What language could have a word meaning… singer of words, a bard, with something that sounds as flowing, as musical, as deep down from legend and myth as the word:

Rhapsodoi. 

Many English words are barbaric when you compare it to a language that could sing out a word as:  Rhapsodoi.

However, Mitchell decided to take it on, and I admit I had an easier time of it.  It seems he eliminated many of the speed bumps that slowed my reading down like “swift footed” that came up every time Achilles name was mentioned, or “Bright-eyed” upon every mention of the Goddess Athena.    In addition, he added modern words like “sissy” and “son of a bitch.”

Is it the right thing to do?  I don’t know, and I worry about the poetry disappearing from the text, but I never heard the Iliad sung about the campfire like in the days of the rhapsodoi either. 

Note*  Do not read the above paragraph as meaning I do not like the Iliad, for that is not true.  I have read and seen a myriad of books and movies on this subject.  The story of Troy holds a particular fascination for me, and don’t even get me started on the Odyssey.

In the introduction Mitchell brings up some interesting points on how the Iliad still speaks to people – even today.   From an Australian in the outback, a counterman serving lunch who has the first word of the Illiad tattooed on his arm, Rage [Me nin], to the towns people in a Columbian village who refused to give back the Illiad to a traveling library because it reflected their own story.

“It told of a war-torn country in which insane gods mix with men and women who never know exactly what the fighting is all about, or when they will be happy, or why they will be killed,” was the explanation of the theft

It still has the power ‘to move’ people, as if the feelings and words are ‘hard-wired’ into the brain.  Even Alexander slept with it under his pillow.  Note*  It’s not hard to imagine why: 15,600 lines are devoted to graphic descriptions of battle – wonderful bedtime reading for a future conquerer of the known world.

How could one not be moved?  How could one not be taken in by the words, the poetry, no matter the age and the times?

Listen to the following.  Don’t read it.  SPEAK IT!  Speak it out loud to yourself while looking in the mirror.  Play the part of a rhapsodoi and let the words fill the room.

“And as soon as the flush of dawn appeared in the heavens,

They boarded the ship and launched her.  Apollo sent them

A favoring breeze and they raised the mast, and

They hoisted the white sail aloft, as it bellied out with the wind,

And on either side of the ship’s prow, the deep blue water

Sang out as the ship flew over the waves to her goal.”

The words in bold and larger point size were the phrases and words that gave the passage ‘particular’ imagery for me as I read the passage.   

Do we need a new translation?  I don’t know, there’s been 5 or 6 already, and more than likely more.  Why shouldn’t there be, each version readied to speak to a new generation? 

Note*

 Tolstoy called the Iliad “a miracle”

Note*

Geothe said the Iliad threw him into a state of astonishment. 

Tri-pon, there you are.  What other books do you have hidden in back of the shop?

 

Comments

  • Paul (@princejvstin) · October 14, 2011 · 11:47 am

    I’m intrigued by this new translation of the Iliad, Rob.

  • Fred Kiesche · February 20, 2012 · 11:42 pm

    Picked up this one on your recommendation and the recommendation of the gentleman above (hi, Paul!).

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