Summer is often considered a time of relaxation and leisure, but for students it carries the danger of causing the mind to lose the sharp edge developed from the academic rigors of the school year. So, instead of squandering away my summer days doing nothing, I have decided to keep my mind active by continuing to read as many books as possible (though now for leisure, rather than for academic purposes) and discussing them here on this blog. To that end, I present to you my reading list for the summer of 2013. Please expect future blog posts regarding the items on this list.Main Items
- The Aeneid by Vergil – Translated by Frederick Ahl, with an introduction by Elaine Fantham
The Aeneid is the famous epic poem by Vergil that details the journey and struggle of the Trojan survivor Aeneas to create the bloodline that would found the city of Rome. I was first introduced to this text in senior year of high school in a class called Humanities, which was essentially an overview course in western culture, art, and history. We briefly looked at the epic poem during a unit on the Romans, but though I understood conceptually that this was probably an important piece of literature, I recall being not too impressed by the dense and difficult translation offered by our textbook. Nor did I completely understand the exact significance of the Aeneid, except perhaps that it sought to link the story of Troy to the founding of Rome. My teacher also noted that Dido’s suicide represented a link to the tradition of Greek tragedy, but unfortunately we quickly moved on without delving deeper into the Aeneid. I remember telling myself that I would read the entire poem someday.
The next year, I read selections from the Aeneid again, this time in a thematic core class at Santa Clara University called Heroes and Heroism. Fortunately, my professor assigned the much more accessible and readable translation by Fagles, and I think this time I was better able to grasp the importance of this text as the essential founding epic of Rome. I began to understand more distinctly that this epic was about the cost paid by Aeneas in order to found the Roman line. Though I found Fagle’s rendering of Vergil quite readable and understandable, I did not find myself attached personally to his translation, unlike his much more famous work with the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer. This may only be a matter of preference, in the end, but Fagles translates the first line of the Aeneid (“Arma virumque cano” in Latin) as “Wars and a man I sing”, which not only removes the poetic sense of the word “arms” but ignores the literary significance of the shield gifted to Aeneas through the course of the story. The shield, which carries an image of the glorious future of Rome, is part of the arms sung about in the opening words of Vergil, but this meaning is missing in Fagle’s version. (As a brief aside, Fagle’s introductory lines of the Iliad and Odyssey work extremely well compared to his Aeneid).
So, I searched for a different translation that offers both improved accuracy of translation and a sense of poetic flow that I felt was lacking with Fagles. After a period of searching online, I settled on a new translation by Frederick Ahl. I was swayed by his excellent translation of Vergil’s opening lines (“Arms and the man I sing”), but I also noted that Ahl’s use of words created a certain onward movement or flow (attributed in the promotional summary on Amazon.com to his use of a “swift-moving” hexameter) that made his version of the Aeneid more poetic while still remaining entirely readable. As I proceed through each section, I will be writing up and sharing with you my thoughts on the theme, style, and plot of the epic.
- Inferno by Dan Brown
After the seriousness of the Aeneid as a work of great literature, the presence of Dan Brown here might seem strange. Dan Brown is not an author of “great works” but a writer of popular fiction. His claims as to what is true or untrue are dubious at best, and at worst, they represent a total distortion of historical facts. So, why, then, am I reading his latest novel? Well, I understand that while the facts may be true within the context of his fictional story, I do not need to accept his claims as actually being true in the real world. Once this step has been made, I can enjoy his novels for what they are: exciting thrillers based on historical elements that perhaps have been created, fabricated, or altered to suit the needs of a story and that do not necessarily match up to reality. This is just fine, since Dan Brown’s stories are, of course, fictional. The main concern of this book is the Inferno by Dante, a particularly fascinating and gruesome piece of literature, and I wonder how it might be incorporated into one of Dan Brown’s thrillers. You might see a review of this book after I have finished reading it.
- Lucian’s A
True StoryThe Ass by Evan Hayes and Stephen Nimis
This past academic year, I have been learning the ancient Greek language in the elementary sequence offered at Santa Clara University. In the fall, I will supposedly be ready to tackle the prose of the historian Herodotus in his original language. Language, though, is a skill that is quickly lost when it is not used, so this summer I, along with a fellow Greek student, have resolved to continue practicing our Greek by reading through this text, The Ass by Lucian.
This format of Greek reader is especially useful for those attempting to read Greek outside of a classroom environment. The difficult vocabulary words we are unlikely to know are listed at the bottom of the page, alongside valuable grammar notes that clarify certain points and remind us what forms of nouns/verbs we are dealing with. The idea is to guess based on context what is meant, and then to use the vocabulary and grammar notes to check if we are correct. This way, we do not need to constantly flip to the back to look up words.
We originally planned to read Lucian’s A True Story, a fanciful story that resembles science-fiction, but my friend and I found its sentences rather difficult and complex. An Amazon.com reviewer suggests that The Ass is an easier, and more entertaining, text, so we’ve decided to read through this instead. It is apparently a humorous love story involving human-to-donkey transformations; perhaps it is the ancient world’s version of a romantic-comedy.
I am not sure precisely how I will present my impressions of The Ass to you here on this blog. I will be spending most of my time simply crunching through the mechanics of grammar and vocabulary, primarily as a way to practice my language skills. Perhaps I will go over whether I found this book particularly useful as a language-learning tool and whether the story is really as hilarious as the synopsis makes it sounds.
- Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, in Persians and Other Plays – Translated by Christopher Collard
This September, a production of this ancient Greek play will be presented at the Getty Villa near Malibu. The Getty Villa is an almost exact replica of an ancient Roman villa, and it is an absolutely wonderful museum to visit for those of you interested in Greek and Roman culture. Just as ancient Roman aristocrats displayed Greek art in their villas because they thought the Greeks was especially “cultured”, so too does this villa display the art of antiquity to us, so that we may appreciate the great civilizations of the ancient world.
Artwork, though, is not the only aspect of the ancient Mediterranean on display, for each year, the villa puts on a production of a Greek tragedy. I hope to attend one of the Prometheus Bound productions this year, and for that reason, I have decided to read the play beforehand, in order to gain a deeper appreciation of what it means to turn a simple text, translated from Greek, into a full production. All we have is a text, and it takes a certain level of interpretation to create an actual play.
This play is traditionally said to be written by the great Athenian playwright, Aeschylus, but many scholars now say that he could not have written Prometheus Bound, based on language, style, and the technical limitations of performance present during his lifetime. It is a political play, in that Prometheus is chained to the rock for opposing the rule of the new king of the gods, Zeus. Somehow, this premise of political opposition seems particularly relevant in today’s world, despite the thousands of years that have passed since the play was initially presented. I will first share with you my thoughts on the text of Prometheus Bound, but later this summer, I will also share with you what I think of the Getty Villa’s production of the play.
The following books are those that I may or may not read this summer. It simply depends on what type of story I feel like reading when the time comes.
- The Histories by Herodotus – Translated by Robin Waterfield: Since I will be reading the Greek text of Herodotus this fall, I might want to first attain a better sense of the narrative by reading an English version first. Doing this may ruin the surprise and the excitement of reading the Greek without knowing what comes next, but then again, this might actually smooth things out and make the Greek easier.
- The Way of Kings and the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson: One of my family members suggested these books to me, and since I have not as many good fantasy novels as I would like, I figured it might be a good idea to get started this summer.
- Any of the Greek tragedies by Euripides: I recently read several of Euripides’ tragedies for a class, and I decided to acquire good translations of the rest of his plays, simply for the purposes of having a complete set. I may be able to read through one or two of the plays this summer.
- A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin: Having finished A Storm of Swords, the third installement of the Song of Ice and Fire, I might want to continue on to the fourth book. It may be a bit of a long slog, especially if it is true that the point-of-view characters are different in this book and that some of the plotlines from book three are not continued until book five. So, I might not want to start this now.
And that’s it. This is my reading list for the summer. It is certainly going to be a fun and interesting mix. However, it may be subject to change at any moment, depending on what books appear on my radar or what I happen to find interesting. And, of course, please recommend to me any of the books that you find interesting—I am always on the look-out for new stories to read.