After failing to find a copy of the Aeneid, I turned my attention towards The Odyssey instead. I haven’t yet had time to visit a decent bookstore though, so I had to reserve a library copy. I say ‘decent bookstore’, because the only bookstores nearby are small chainstores that sell the likes of Jodi Picoult and Bryce Courtenay, and maybe the occasional Rushdie or McEwan. Not that I have anything against those writers; it’s just that most stores don’t seem to include Homer and Virgil on their list of bestsellers.
Turns out libraries don’t either – my branch of the library didn’t have the Odyssey, so they had to bring one in from another branch. After waiting a week, I was finally able to borrow a copy of Fitzgerald’s Odyssey on my way home. So yes, it’s Fitzgerald for now. I plan on reading the Fagles and Chapman translations as well, but I want to purchase my own copy of the Fagles, and I plan on leaving Chapman til last – I already own a copy, but I find the language so dense that I feel I need a solid understanding of the text before I can attempt it.
Initial impressions? Well, from the few pages that I’ve read, I’m both relieved and disenchanted. Relieved because the language is modern, highly readable and in verse. Disenchanted because it isn’t as lyrical or ‘pretty’ as I thought it would be. I suppose that’s asking for too much though. To expect ‘prettiness’ from the Odyssey is insulting to its nature; it is first and foremost an epic tale of – among many other things – redemption, revenge and temptation.
I’m probably spurting out gross generalisations and ignorance of poetry (daffodil poems? I cringe at myself), but the jist of it’s there. What I’m trying to say is that I really shouldn’t expect the Odyssey to be “pretty”. To be fair, the language, as C S Lewis once wrote, has “a strong, salty flavour of its own”. It does have rhythm, and it does flow. Which is essential, because unlike the Romanticists and their daffodil poems, the Odyssey was written in verse with the purpose of being recited. Yet the praise I’d heard concerning Fitzgerald’s translations led me to believe that they would be more intensely poetic than those of Lombardo or Fagles. It’s still early days, though. I have a few hundred pages left to read.
Edit: In hindsight, I don’t really make sense here. What I’m attempting to say is that while the Odyssey is many things – profound, powerful, eloquent, immensely beautiful – it isn’t necessarily “pretty”.
Other books that I borrowed from the library include:
- Ladies in Waiting: From the Tudors to the Present Day, Anne Somerset
- The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie
- Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell
- Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell
- The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
- Kim, Rudyard Kipling
The last two can’t be read until 2009, as I’ve put them down for various challenges, but the others I’ll be reading as soon as I’ve finished Little Dorrit and The Odyssey. First thing next year is Anna Karenina, though. I’ve waited long enough to read it :)
Oh! And I joined another challenge today – Sarah G’s Art History Reading Challenge. Here are the six books I’ll be reading:
- The Matisse Stories, A S Byatt
- Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood
- The Lady and the Unicorn, Tracy Chevalier
- Life Studies: Stories, Susan Vreeland
- My Name is Red, Orhan Pamuk
- The Painted Kiss: A Novel, Elizabeth Hickey