Thursday, May 27, 2004

"I have seen the face of Agamemnon"

Interesting article on Bronze Age DNA testing on the shaft graves at Mycenae where Heinrich Schliemann found the gold death masks. I found a different article in Archaeology, questioning the very discovery and background of the masks themselves.

I'll be away at a convention this weekend, but Homer is packed away in my carry-on bag. The "catalogue of ships" may prove a restful distraction in the airport. I do want to touch on Mandelei's comments on the relevance on Troy when I get back. Rewatching Michael Wood's documentary reminded me of his statement that "every generation of archaeologists reinterprets the story of the Trojan War." In some ways they find what they go looking for, whether glorious golden halls or war torn shanties. (I need to remember to check whether he was quoting someone or just a general observation.)

Monday, May 24, 2004

Book 1 thoughts

Before I start, let me state something I might not have mentioned. I've never read The Iliad in its entirety. I know most of the basic story from an interest in Troy and Greek mythology, but I'd never actually had to read the poem. I think my high school focused on crafty old Odysseus and the The Odyssey, rather than Hector and Achilles.

So I finished reading Book 1 of The Iliad yesterday in the Fagles edition. It took me awhile to get used to the constant barrage of repetitions, including even whole sections. I've seen repetition in poetry before for style's sake, but it seemed different here, knowing it was meant to be recited aloud. The epithets were confusing at first. I was grateful the edition included a generous glossary of names and places so I could realize eventually "Duh! All these references refer the same characters".

I'd met Agamemnon before when I read Aeschylus' play about his dear murderous wife Clytemnestra. From the casual reference, he doesn't seem to regard her too highly even in Homer. But Agamemnon irritated me more in Homer. He compounded the problems on his troops with his actions and then worried about his honor being disgraced? Maybe Achilles' descriptions swayed me too much, but Agamemnon seemed a great one for talking, not doing, whereas Achilles seemed to prefer actual deeds. Yet Agamemnon was rated the greater king with the greater honor.

I really hadn't had any knowledge of Achilles other than the usual stuff about his heel. So seeing him in action was an eye-opener. I had never realized he was so outspoken against Agamemnon. When we hear about stories from the Iliad out of context, they usually show Achilles in the heat of battle as a warrior/hero. Then again I hadn't thought of "king" as "clan chieftain" or "commander in chief", so on some level, Achilles is more of a peer, if set apart by his parentage.

The gods were interesting. Some of them were what I expected. Others were showing their more vengeful side, like Apollo. In particular, we think of Apollo as the pretty boy Adonis with the lyre, forgetting how he treated Cassandra. In her commentary, Amanda reminded us while, yes, Apollo was god of medicine that was a double-edged sword. The Greeks prayed to these gods for respite from illness. However, if he was provoked or unsated, Apollo could still bring plague if provoked. Such are the petty and spiteful ways of the Greek pantheon. "The white-armed" Hera seemed all concerned for the Greeks and their kind, until we see her arguments with Zeus. Thetis, at least, has the concerns of a mother at heart, even if it brings her into conflict with the others.

I'm looking forward to the next book with the "catalogue of ships". One of my favorite parts of the In Search of Trojan War documentary was when Michael Wood was tracing the various cities and locations that sent ships to Troy. "In Search of a Thousand Ships" would have made a great episode in itself, but maybe after umpteen Mycenaean ruins, it might have gotten tiresome.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

An addendum on Homer translations

A long article on the "Troy" movie "I liked the book better" includes a lengthy discussion on the various translations of the Iliad, including several others I didn't consider, like Chapman and Pope. It also comments on the prose versions of The Iliad, which I avoided.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Skimming Homer and making a choice (or two)

So I went to the bookstore for my writer's group meeting and spent some time picking out the "Iliad" edition to read. I liked the suggestion of simply reading through and seeing which version grabbed you. Or which one didn't. I pulled off the shelf the Fagles, Fitzgerald, Lattimore and Lombardo editions. I compared the openings of all four. The difference is quite startling. I was really surprised at how radically different the approaches to the translations could be. I'm almost surprised there haven't been more controversies over the translations. Some focus on the anger and rage, whereas others are singing hymns to goddesses. The Lombardo was a little too contemporary for my tastes. I skimmed later in, finding myself reading about Zeus replying to some character "My heart isn't in it". For some reason, it felt wrong. It seems too modern an utterance. I can't quite explain why. And Fitzgerald was in the other direction, almost too flowery and old-fashioned. The Lattimore did seem have a more authentic feel, while Fagles was easy to understand. We'll see how this goes.

In Search of a good documentary

I have not seen Troy yet. I’ve been reading some of the news articles that have cropped up on the archaeological side of Troy, from Archaeology magazine and US News and World Report. I did watch the added interview footage with Michael Wood for the In Search of the Trojan War dvd. I was a bit disappointed with the interview actually. They had such a great opportunity to update the documentary. Twenty years have passed since the original documentary was shot. A whole new generation of archaeologists has been excavating Troy and its environs. They even found Schliemann’s treasure hiding out in a Russian museum. But Michael Wood seemed more intent on retrospectives on the original, how he might have shot it now, looking back in hindsight. Although I did enjoy the reminders that it was literally shot in another time when the Berlin Wall was still intact. Most of the artifacts Wood wanted to see were housed in East Berlin so he spent a lot of time going past Checkpoint Charlie to the point he felt like he was in a John le Carré spy novel. Maybe this weekend, I'll find some spare hours to watch the rest of the dvds.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Ended before it began

Even before it has begun, my studying verve has hit a snag. My archaeology class has been cancelled due to a lack of interest. They're redoing the course in October, so it will go smack dab in the middle of Nanowrimo, National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated. I tried juggling the class and Nano my first year and saw a distinct drop in quality. Rather than go through that again, I opted for the full refund, rather than transfer to that session.

All is not totally lost, however.

Mandelei has started an online reading group of Homer's The Iliad on her blog. I already have the Fagles edition, but I may look at the other options at the bookstore.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Delusions of grandeur

On a whim, I signed up for an online class on sponsored by Oxford University called "Archaeology for Amateurs". The class, which starts in June, will focus on the theory and methods of archaeology with a special focus on the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete. I mostly wanted to see if I had any real aptitude for a subject that interests me. I'm not expecting any great revelations. And I certainly have no illusions about the work involved. To me, half of the fun is the background research, piecing together the clues until you can stand back and see the larger picture. The sad thing is you're still only putting together the smallest puzzle of an infinitely larger whole.

An observant reader will notice I named the server "Hisarlik" after the mound where the ancient city of Troy was located in Turkey. Troy and I have a long tradition together, mostly from attending Smithsonian Associate programs with my parents, sponsored by the American Friends of Turkey. I'm far more intrigued by archaeological Troy than the mythical one of Homer. The actual weblog name alas comes from a Mick Jagger song.