Category Archives: Opinion Posts

Shattered by War and Repulsed by Fate: The Troy Exhibit at The British Museum

The collection of papyri, sculpture, pottery, paintings and literature on display at The British Museum’s Troy Exhibit is, to say the least, mesmerizing.   A large part of the exhibit is devoted to telling the story of the Trojan Saga through black and red figure vase painting from the 6th and 5th centuries BCE.  It was a special treat for me to go to the museum with @flowerville since, as a skilled potter herself, she helped me appreciate even more the creative process of making these delicate vessels.

Black figure amphora by Execkias. Achilles and Ajax playing a game. c. 540-530 BCE.

 

The marble sculpture of The Wounded Achilles by Filippo Albacini was also something we lingered over for a long time.  It is placed in such a way in the center of the exhibit that it is easily viewed from all sides.

The Wounded Achilles. Filippo Albacini. 1825. Marble with restored gilded arrow.

 

Another view of The Wounded Achilles.

 

The objects that I think we were the most fond of, and certainly most excited to view, were the books.  The displays of literature included Dryden’s 1697 translation of the Aeneid as well as Pope’s handwritten draft of the Iliad which includes his drawing of the Shield of Achilles.

Dryden’s 1697 translation of Vergil’s Aeneid

 

Handwritten draft of Pope’s translation of the Iliad with a drawing of the Shield of Achilles. 1712-24

 

I really could go on and on about the exhibit but these are just a few of the highlights.  One additional piece I would like to mention, which was built as a set especially for the exhibit, is an enormous wooden skeleton of the Trojan Horse as if it were in the process of being constructed by the Greeks.  It immediately brought to mind these lines of Vergil’s Aeneid 2.13-17 (translation is my own):

Fracti bello fatisque repulsi
ductores Danaum tot iam labentibus annis
instar montis equum divina Palladis arte
aedificant, sectaque intexunt abiete costas;
votum pro reditu similant; ea fama vagatur.

Shattered by war, repulsed by fate, and
with so many years now having slipped by,
the leaders of the Greeks, with divine
inspiration from Athena, built a horse
that was as big as a mountain. They covered
up the skeleton and ribs they constructed
with felled trees. They pretended to
pray for a safe return; this rumor
of their departure was spread around.

 

A skeleton of the Trojan Horse suspended from the exhibit ceiling.

 

This was really a once in a lifetime experience for me and sharing it with flowerville made it even more of a special occasion.  Our only real complaint was that there wasn’t enough Latin and Ancient Greek text included with the English translations.  But viewing these artifacts has inspired us both to look at and translate the ancient texts, especially The Aeneid.

 

 

 

 

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Why I translate Ancient Languages

μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί’ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε’ ἔθηκε,
πολλὰς δ’ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προί̈αψεν
ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν
οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι, Διὸς δ’ ἐτελείετο βουλή

Wrath—sing goddess, about the wrath of
Achilles, son of Peleus, a destructive
wrath that brought unbearable grief to
the Achaeans, and which sent many brave
souls of heroes to Hades, and left their
bodies as carrion for dogs and vultures,
the will of Zeus was carried out.

These first five lines of the Iliad are, to me, some of the most profound, beautiful, emotional and simple lines in all of classical literature. When I mentioned on Twitter that I was translating Homer, someone commented, “The field is already populated with several translations. What are they missing and what is new yours is bringing to the table?”

First, “several” translations is an understatement.  Homer has been translated by countless people since Ancient Greek was rediscovered in the Middle Ages!  I have no intention of sharing a full translation of my work because, for me, translation is a very personal matter. I oftentimes print out the text and make notes or jot down bits of translations on a notebook or scraps of paper. Oftentimes I translate silently to myself, or out loud when I ask one of the other two people I know who also know Ancient Greek what they think of a particular translation.  My translations, I guess, are truly ephemeral.

And what I saw in a text like Homer, when I first encountered him at the age of nineteen, is very different from how I experience his works now.  Very different.   But the point of the exercise  for me is to interact with the text. Nothing focuses my attention—especially when I am sad or stressed out, etc.—like an ancient text. The cases, the word order, the verb tenses, the vocabulary—it is an all-consuming experience for me. The few translations I do share on my blog are, once again, very personal renderings of some of my favorite ancient texts, but certainly not read by a wide audience. Every once in a great while I will do a translation on request for someone; and even more rarely I will do a translation for a particular person as a sort of gift. But, once again, these are personal exchanges and experiences, usually only done for an audience of one.

So, what are other translations missing?  Well, not necessarily anything. But they aren’t my own….

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My Search for an Epic Summer Read

Now that the semester is over and I am on summer vacation, my usual feelings of restlessness have set in. Sinking into a novel of epic proportions, like War and Peace which absorbed me for weeks during the winter months, would be just the cure. I took to literary Twitter to ask for suggestions and I was given so many wonderful recommendations I thought I would compile the ones that were the top contenders for me. To see the full thread go to my Twitter feed @magistrabeck.

The following are books that are sitting on my bookshelves that I was already considering:

The Balkan Trilogy, Olivia Manning
Life and Fate, Vasily Grossman
Zibaldone, Giacomo Leopardi
Alberta Trilogy, Cora Sandel
Memoirs, Alexander Herzen
Daniel Deronda, George Eliot
The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann

These are my favorites from the Twitter suggestions:

The Charterhouse of Parma, Stendhal
Don Quixote, Cervantes
The Idiot, Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky
Parallel Stories, The Book of Memories, Peter Nadas
Three Trapped Tigers, Guillermo Cabrera Infante
The Glastonbury Romance, John Cowper Powys
Berlin Alexanderplatz, Alfred Doblin
In Search of Lost Time, Proust
The Transylvanian Trilogy, Miklos Banffy
The Death of Vergil, Hermann Broch
Parade’s End, Ford Maddox Ford

And Anthony at Times Flow shared a link to his excellent list of “Monsters” he intends to read: https://timesflowstemmed.com/2018/04/14/monsters/

And finally, my husband handed me a copy of The Sot Weed Factor by John Barth. Knowing his very wry sense of humor I assumed it was a joke, but he swears it’s a serious suggestion. Speaking of joke recommendations, Tony Messenger suggested I crack open my copy of Bottom’s Dream. But I am afraid that might be a little too epic for me at this point.

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Noli Hoc Tangere: My visit to The Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library

This week I had the opportunity to visit the Beinecke rare books and manuscript library in New Haven.  I was actually born and raised in New Haven and had seen this unique building many times, but to me it was just the odd stamp-shaped library whose books are not allowed to be borrowed.  The panels that make up the building are Vermont white and grey veined marble, one and a half inches thick, which allows natural light to filter through the building but without damaging the rare books.

The exterior of the Beinecke showing the white and grey-veined marble from Vermont.

A view of the marble panels from inside the Beinecke.

Upon entering the building, one is greeted by a glass tower, six levels high, filled with approximately 180,000 rare books—first editions, manuscripts, letters, etc. There is additional space in the Beinecke’s underground stacks for one million volumes. I could not stop staring at this impressive, gorgeous tower and taking photos of it from all angles. Here are a few of the ones I took:

Central, glass tower of books at The Beinecke.

The glass tower of books, The Beinecke.

A view of the glass tower with marble panels in the background.

Anyone can visit the library during its operating hours and view the Gutenberg Bible and Audobon’s Birds of America which are on permanent display. There is also seating around the main floor for anyone to study, read or sit quietly:

Audobon’s Birds of America on display at The Beinecke.

The Gutenberg Bible on display at The Beinecke.

In addition to these permanent books on display, there is also a collection of rare books and manuscripts to view that changes every few months. The current display is a group of Medieval English Manuscripts from the Takamiya Collection:

Takamiya ms 114. Ranulph Higden, Polychronicon. England, late 15th century.

Beinecke ms 84. Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae. England, between 1400 and 1500.

Beinecke ms 923. Folding calendar. France, c. 1290-1300.

Takamiya ms 117. Scribal sample sheet. Germany, c. 14755-1500.

For additional information about the building, an audio tour, and a description of its rare books, manuscripts and papyri visit their website: http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/about/about-building

Any researchers, even those not associated with Yale University, can request to view books and other materials through the library’s website. There is a rigorous process for identification and the materials can only be viewed in their reading room which, as one can imagine, is closely monitored. I requested to look at their Dorothy M. Richardson collection, the treasures from which I will share in a future post.

(The title for this post “Noli hoc tangere” (don’t touch this) was a clever suggestion from one of my Latin students who came up with this caption after I showed my photos and shared my experience in class.)

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Pilgrimage and Mourning the Loss of Summer Vacation

My levels of anxiety have been at an all-time high in the last few days as I contemplate all of the tasks that go into the beginning of a new semester.  The first week entails hours of meetings, listening to various speakers and leadership team planning.  My mind is swimming with thoughts of various administrative duties I need to perform, of ideas from leadership articles I have been required to read and of dread at the anticipation of sitting through hours of speakers that are supposed to motivate us for the new term.  But as I was reading Pilgrimage, Dorothy Richardson reminded me of the real purpose of my chosen profession, engaging with students.  The advice that is given to Miriam as she completes her first teaching job is just as relevant today as it was 100 years ago and it applies to every teacher, no matter the grade level or subject one instructs:

To truly fulfil the most serious role of the teacher you must enter into the personality of each pupil and must sympathize with the struggles of each one upon the path on which our feet are set.  Efforts to good kindliness and thought for others must be encouraged.  The teacher shall be sunshine, human sunshine, encouraging all effort and all lovely things in the personality of the pupil.

I am truly grateful for a lovely summer that involved lots of reading, swimming, sunbathing, traveling and spending time with my family.  I know how lucky I am to have this extended time off.  I just have to grit my teeth and get through the next week of “professional development” before I get to greet my always fabulous Latin and Ancient Greek students.

I hope all of my readers and visitors have also had a wonderful summer.

 

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