August 07, 2006

Fountainhead of Western literature

On Baricco’s Homer Review by NICK TOSCHES The New York Times: August 6, 2006
Its oldest surviving manuscript fragments date only to the second or third century B.C., but the “Iliad” came into being much earlier, in the eighth century B.C., and came to be attributed about a century later to a poet named Homer. With its fierce, fine Bronze Age war beats, its lines exhaling brutality and delicacy in turn, the “Iliad” was to the Greeks the breath of life for all of word and rhythm that followed. That pre-eminence has proved enduring.
Homer’s “rosy-fingered dawn” and “wine-dark sea” are themselves the first dawn and first-sighted sea of a new world of poetry: the effulgence, inspired and inspiring, of a new way of seeing and saying. All we read today would be unwritable without the “love,” “death” and “dark” that come to us in the first book of the “Iliad.”
That this fountainhead of Western literature begins, exquisitely, with the word “wrath,” just as the poem itself is one of “dismal death” and “corpse-fire,” of “men killing and men killed,” of “vile things” and “vile destiny,” shows that, like other epic wellsprings, such as the Old Testament, most of which postdates Homer, it is more knowing in its awareness of humanity’s most distinguishing trait — inhumanity — than literature of later ages. What came to be called “psychology” more than 2,000 years after Homer has been largely a degeneration from, rather than an advancement of, that awareness...
AN ILIAD By Alessandro Baricco. Translated by Ann Goldstein. 158 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $21. Related First Chapter: ‘An Iliad’ (August 6, 2006) Readers’ Opinions Forum: Book News
So what of Alessandro Baricco’s volume, “An Iliad”? Not a new translation of the “Iliad,” which runs to more than 15,000 lines, this is a slight and slender book, less than 5,000 lines, not counting the introductory and concluding notes. Is it a retelling then? It would appear so. But Baricco says no. He proclaims his intention and his success regarding Homer’s “Iliad” in the same breath: “To rewrite it, as I have done.” Ann Goldstein, a very gifted translator, has performed an act of kindness here. Baricco’s original words, come mi è accaduto di fare (“as I happen to have done”), are even haughtier than “as I have done.”
I put aside Baricco’s novel “Ocean Sea” because it turned out to be what the publisher’s blurb said it was: a “postmodern fable of the human malady.” I enjoyed “Silk,” his wisp of a novel, but it was a simple tale that would have been better if it had been simply told.
SABDADistributors of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publications
Ilion An Epic in Quantitative Hexameters — Sri Aurobindo
Price: Rs 175 Hard Cover Pages: 148 Dimensions (in cms): 22x28 Publisher: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Department, Pondicherry ISBN: 81-7058-169-9

Sri Aurobindo had admired the hexameter – the chosen vehicle of Homer, Virgil and other great Greek and Latin poets – since his school days in England. He began work on Ilion – an epic in quantitative hexameters – in 1909 when he was an undertrial prisoner in Alipur Jail. Depicting the events leading up to the fall of Troy, this epic centres around the conflict between the mighty Greek Achilles and the warrior-queen Penthesilea. A Deluxe edition with glossary of proper names and Greek and Latin terms.

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