The word “classical” can mean many things, from old-fashioned through to top-quality to unchanging. But for centuries the main meaning was “deriving from the ancient Greeks and Romans,” with a classical education meaning the study of the literature of these peoples. This last sense is that encapsulated in the title of this pocket-sized book, a selection from the writings of 16 Greek and 17 Roman authors.
The Loeb Classical Library was founded in the UK in 1911 but is now owned by Harvard University Press (www.hup.harvard.edu/loeb). It publishes a vast range — one is tempted to say all — of Greek and Roman literature in bilingual editions. As such, it used to be an institution, both for students wanting cribs and for the general reader wanting, as well as an English translation, at least a sense of how the works looked in the original. That is exactly what the series still offers today, and to celebrate the publication of its 500th volume (as well, you suspect, as to reach out to new audiences) Harvard has produced this little sampler, giving only three or four pages each from 33 revered ancient authors.
To imagine that the library includes all that's known of “classical” literature isn't that far-fetched. As Tom Stoppard pointed out in The Invention of Love , his wonderful 1997 play about the poet A.E. Housman, what we have of the ancients' great books is a mere fragment of what originally existed. Whether a book survived the Dark Ages (“dark” because they were dominated by monasticism and lacked the light of Greek and Roman reason, recovered at the Renaissance) was largely a matter of chance.
Many people think, for instance, that the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, and the comedies of Aristophanes, are merely the greatest of the ancient Greek plays. The truth, however, is that they are all we have of classical Greek drama. It's possible they were among the best because Aristotle mentions Aeschylus and Sophocles in his Poetics, and Aristophanes certainly kept the best company as he appears in person in Plato's Symposium. But the reality is that we have nothing else to compare them with. As far as Greek drama is concerned, they're all we've got.
It so happens that the four pages of Aristotle reprinted here highlight this situation in that they contain his discussion of Margites, a burlesque epic that may or may not have been by Homer, but which is certainly now lost. We're even lucky to know that it once existed. If another writer doesn't mention them, then lost literary works are well and truly gone for ever.
Even as things stand, it was touch and go in some cases. Some now celebrated works, such as the poems of Catullus, survived the Dark Ages in a single manuscript. If that hadn't been found (in the Renaissance) it would be as if he'd never been.
A Loeb Classical Library Reader prompts many emotions. It opens with Odysseus in the cave of the Cyclops, Polyphemus, and you're immediately gripped by the heaps of dung lying on the floor, the drunk Cyclops' thick neck bent to one side as he sleeps, and Odysseus twisting the olive stake into his only eye being compared with the way the Greeks drilled a ship's timbers using a leather strap wrapped round a pole, with men pulling at either end. You don't know who to admire more, Homer or the old translation by A.T. Murray, revised by George E. Dimock in 1995.
Then there's Thucydides, with the Athenian general Nicias attempting to dissuade the Greeks from attacking Sicily, but finding he'd only encouraged them by his outline of the challenge they faced. There's Xenophon, not this time remembering Socrates, but instead narrating how he found himself in modern-day Iraq, stranded with a Greek army before the gates of Babylon. Socrates does appear, though, in an extract from Plato, talking to his friends about poetry on the day of his execution. And we read from Josephus, very vividly, about the characteristics of Herod's fortified palace of Masada (in modern Israel).
The extract from Plutarch is part of his account of Brutus, speculating that he was possibly Julius Caesar's illegitimate son, something Shakespeare must have read about when writing his play but doesn't refer to. The great Yale critic Harold Bloom thinks it might be the key to Caesar's words “Et tu, Brute” (Even you, Brutus) when Brutus, along with the other conspirators, stabs him.
From Roman literature itself you have Caesar's own account (detailed, but still slightly ambiguous) of how his army built a bridge over the Rhine, the description from Virgil of the Trojan horse, Livy's account of the rape of the Sabine women, Pliny's description of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD, and Ovid's fictional letter from Dido to Aeneas (which must surely have been a model for Alexander Pope's 18th-century English poem Eloisa to Abelard).
Another 18th-century reappearance is brought to mind by Juvenal's third satire on Roman life. Pots falling from windows endanger the passer-by, he writes, which Samuel Johnson, writing in imitation of him 1,600 years later in his poem London, provocatively up-dated to Here falling houses thunder on your head/And here a female atheist talks you dead.
The book ends with St. Jerome, the fourth century creator of the Latin bible known as the Vulgate, invoking the brevity of life in what was by then true Christian fashion, but which had its roots nevertheless in Horace and the other Roman love poets urging their readers to enjoy life's pleasures while they still had the chance.
This little book is a delight to hold and to read. At a mere NT$320, you would, if you're remotely interested in books, be hard-pressed to find anything better anywhere on which to spend your money.
Oct. 18 to Oct.24 To chief engineer Kinsuke Hasegawa, the completion of the Taiwan Railway Hotel was just as important as the launch of Taiwan’s first north-south railroad. Many guests — most notably Japan’s Prince Kotohito — would be coming to Taiwan for the Western Trunk Line’s inauguration ceremony on Oct 24, 1908, and it was imperative to host them at the extremely lavish new establishment. Hasegawa personally presided over its construction for the final months, which carried on day and night with over 1,200 workers toiling in shifts. They just made it — four days before the official ceremony. Designed
It’s not even a road yet. At the moment it is merely a hint of upturned sod off Highway 11. When I visited last week the digger was sitting there unattended for the holiday. And yet, there it was, terrifying. On the site plan the locals obtained, the road goes down to the south end of Taitung County’s Shanyuan (杉原) Beach. That beach now hosts the infamous Miramar hotel, built on land taken from aborigines by the government in 1987 and handed over to a developer to build a hotel in 2004 as a build-operate-transfer (BOT) project. The hotel became the
Daniel Pearl World Music Day takes on a special meaning this year as the late journalist’s mother, Ruth Pearl, passed away on July 20 at the age of 85. After Daniel Pearl was tragically abducted and killed by terrorists in 2002 while working for the Wall Street Journal in Pakistan, Ruth and her husband Judea started the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which seeks to promote cross-cultural understanding through journalism and music — Daniel’s two main passions in life. “[Ruth] was a tireless champion of human rights, press freedom, and racial harmony,” concert organizer Sean Scanlan says. “We all remember her devotion
Jazz is back, but just don’t call it a festival as the Give Me Five concert series is set to kick off tomorrow in Taichung. Running through Oct. 31, the small-scale performances take the place of the annual jazz festival, which was canceled for a second year in a row due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In years past, the multi-day event attracted hundreds of thousands of spectators. “It’s totally different this year,” Hsiao Jing-ping (蕭靜萍), head of performing arts for the city’s Cultural Affairs Bureau, says. Nearly 30 traditional and contemporary jazz bands will perform at venues throughout the city. The old