The Odyssey

Falling behind in my work.  A couple weeks ago I knuckled down and finished The Odyssey which I’d begun last September.   I last read it in college (mumble, mumble) years ago and it was chosen for a homecoming event, but then quickly unchosen as hardly anyone has time to read a book that long.   But I’d already bought it and started it when I found out the change of plan and so, at intervals, I kept reading it.  In college I read the Fitzgerald translation which was good, but I thought I’d like to try a different one.   I had the Lattimore, but a page of that was enough to make me look further.   It’s technically correct I believe, but it’s not really English.   I realize translation is difficult and, naturally, different people prefer different styles.  The Lattimore seems to me more like a guide to the Greek rather than a translation into English.

Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven
far journeys, after he had sacked Troy’s sacred citadel.

You see what I mean?   Driven far journeys?   Okay, I know what it means, but we don’t say that in English.  So, I went for the newest (I think) by Emily Wilson.   I can’t judge the Greek, but the flow of English is excellent.   Very readable.

Tell me about a complicated man.
Muse, tell me how he wandered and was lost
when he had wrecked the holy town of Troy,
and where he went, and who he met, the pain
he suffered in the storms at sea, and how
he worked to save his life and bring his men
back home. He failed to keep them safe; poor fools,
they ate the Sun God’s cattle, and the god
kept them from home. . . .

Personally I’m not crazy about the first line, but it’s a difficult line.  πολύτροπον – politropos means many ways and includes both the physical sense of much traveled and the mental sense of wily,   Then again, this definition probably comes from our knowledge of Odysseus’ character.   They thought he was wily, clever, which he could be, but they also thought he was smart, which he frequently isn’t.   I am not terribly keen on Odysseus as a hero.   It’s not his fault, of course, the gods are constantly fighting through their favorites, making people do things they might not do on their own.   But my advice to you  is never to go into a cave if you don’t know who or what is living there.

Wilson’s translation flows very nicely, as I said.   I think it’s easier to read than the Fitzgerald, although that might also be because I’m older and had way more time to finish it.   It does not have as many of those constantly repeated phrases which I believe are part of Homer’s style, but a part that can get on your nerves.   Rosy-fingered dawn, the wine-dark sea, epithets are better to a modern eye when used less often, but perhaps this might be viewed as taking us too far from the original style.   Saying cow-eyed Hera fifty times in a work was how it was done and I probably wouldn’t be aware of that if I’d only read Wilson’s Odyssey.  On the other hand, if fewer repetitious epithets make it more likely you’ll read the Odyssey, then it’s probably a good thing and I recommend Wilson’s translation for the smoothness and readability.   I can’t compare them too well as decades have passed and I did not reread Fitzgerald, but I think I can honestly recommend either if you’re looking for a good translation of the Odyssey.   Not that you need my help.   There’s a whole lot of webpages dedicated to helping you choose.   Google away.

wilsonodyssey It’s quite interesting to see how people apparently lived back then, or perhaps how Homer thought they did.  I’d forgotten a lot of the book.  I was always struck by how powerless Telemachus and Penelope are against the suitors.  They want to stay in the house and eat all their goats, then there’s nothing you can do about it.  And it doesn’t matter whether you’re royal – you still have to do laundry.  What I was struck with though that I don’t remember from before was how much crying there is.   If you went through what Odysseus and his men went through you might cry that much as well, but I don’t think anyone writing it today would have that many tears.   Everyone cries.   A lot.

One odd thing about last year was that the four classics I started, including the Odyssey, were all more or less related to it.   I also didn’t finish Ulysses, the Aeneid nor the Count of Monte Cristo.   I wouldn’t have even connected the last with the Odyssey except I read that somewhere and it makes sense as he apparently roamed around for a long time before…  well, I haven’t read it and don’t want to spoil it for anyone else.  But there was a lot of roaming, I’ve heard.

Still hoping to get through the Aeneid and Ulysses, but time will tell.

Dancers in Mourning

I hope this lack of blogging is temporary.   I finished Dancers in Mourning on the 27th during the Bout of Books.  Published in 1937 it’s the 8th Albert Campion book and I’m surprised by that because I thought I’d been reading them in order and that I hadn’t read that many.  Have I or haven’t I?   My memory is somewhat tricky because I watched them on Mystery! years ago with Peter Davison.   I can’t tell for sure because I’ve got some in print and some on the Kindle.   Anyway, I know I read this one.   Campion is called in to help a dancer, star of musicals, who’s being harassed by an unknown party.  Annoying things like someone sending him a bouquet of garlic.  The hit show he’s starring in has a cast of annoying characters including a very annoying woman who was suddenly added to the show despite no longer being a bright young thing and who has invited herself to the star’s house for the weekend.   Campion joins this weekend and is thus very nearby when the host apparently runs the woman over.   Campion notices immediately there’s not enough blood for car to have caused the death although the country doctor whom you might think would notice a thing like that doesn’t.   But Campion keeps this and other things to himself because he has fallen in love with his hostess and it’s just not the done thing to investigate a murder which might get your host put in jail if you have a thing for his wife, don’tchaknow?   Campion proceeds to act like a total knucklehead, running away and barely investigating.    Fortunately, there’s Lugg.

Magersfontein Lugg, Campion’s gentleman’s valet and ex-con, is always entertaining, but more so in this when he is drafted to become a replacement butler for the said hostess, but forbidden from investigating.   He and the lonely young daughter of the house take to each other and Lugg has a pretty good time pretending to be a butler.   This is good because where is Campion?   Half the time we don’t even know.  Sometimes a gentleman’s code is a good thing, but in this case it just seems daft.   You can’t have murderer’s walking about loose even if you are in love with their wives, which you don’t know for sure because you won’t investigate.   Ridiculous.   Eventually enough investigating does get done and the murderer apprehended, but I have little patience with this sort of artificial postponement.  Plus the whole set-up as to how the body gets under the wheels of the car is in my view, ludicrous.  If I were in the murderer’s situation there’s at least one thing they could have done which would have been infinitely simpler and smarter and seems to me to be glaringly obvious, but I didn’t write the book.   I’m also unconvinced that the final clue which Campion discovers before the police arrive was actually a clue at all.   But I’m trying to be very careful and not spoil it for you because 1) these things might not bother you as they do me and 2) in addition to Lugg there’s a well-drawn landlady and you might enjoy Campion falling in love and acting like a prat.

The first cover was the best. Mine makes it look like it’s about ballet and/or ballroom dancing.