Sappho: Poems and Fragments by Sappho (Review)

Sappho: Poems and Fragments by Sappho, translated by Josephine Balmer

About the author

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Sappho (Σαπφώ or Ψάπφω) was an Ancient Greek lyric poet, born on the island of Lesbos. In history and poetry texts, she is sometimes associated with the city of Mytilene on Lesbos; she was also said to have been born in Eresos, another city on Lesbos. Her birth was sometime between 630 BC and 612 BC, and it is said that she died around 570 BC. The bulk of her poetry, which was well-known and greatly admired throughout antiquity, has been lost, but her immense reputation has endured through surviving fragments.

About the translator

Josephine Balmer is a British poet, translator of classics and literary critic.

Blurb

This second, expanded edition of Josephine Balmer’s classic translation of the Greek poet Sappho has new, recently-discovered fragments, including the Brothers Poem, the Kypris Song and the Cologne Fragment. In a new essay on these additions she discusses the issues raised in translating these fragmentary and ever-shifting texts. Poems & Fragments is now the only complete, readily-available translation in English of Sappho’s surviving work. Sappho was one of the greatest poets in classical literature. Her lyric poetry is among the finest ever written, and although little of her work has survived and little is known about her, she is regarded not just as one of the greatest women poets, but often as the greatest woman poet in world literature. In a comprehensive introduction, Balmer discusses Sappho’s poetry, its historical background and critical reputation, as well as aspects of contemporary Greek society, sexuality, and women.

Review

This is another read for my Masters and I must admit I was very excited to read it as I had done a unit on Sappho and just a handful of her work so it was nice to read all her known works. Sappho’s work sadly is mainly only fragments and I will be honest I find this so depressing as from the known fragments that we do have it is evident that Sappho was an amazing talent. I just hope more of her work is found over time like it has been so far.

The introduction of this book is excellent and I really enjoyed how it was broken down into sections and was so informative. I also enjoyed the section on the new fragments that have been found recently.

I’ve always found Sappho a fascinating character and I wish more was known about this very talented poet but sadly not a lot is known and what we do know was written many years after her death and can’t be relied upon.

Sappho’s poetry although only fragmentary is full of passion and life and it was a joy to read. Her poetry is full of different forms of love; romantic love, maternal love, friendship and love for all the many wonders in this world. I love reading her poetry because it is as relevant today as it was when it was written, Sappho is timeless.

Balmer has been really sympathetic with the translation and the translation flows well which makes reading this book a joy. I will admit I could not put it down once I started reading it.

I highly recommend this book, it might be mainly fragments but it is worth the read to see how this amazing woman’s voice has survived all these years and opens up a small window to a part of history that was thousands of years ago. I really hope we continue to find more of her work and hopefully learn more about this talented poet. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons and I leave you with one of my favourite fragments.

Beauty endures only for as long as it is seen;

goodness, beautiful today, will remain so tomorrow.

 

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The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson

The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson

About the author

Homer is the presumed author of the Iliad and the Odyssey. There are loads of legends regarding the life of Homer however, what we can definitely confirm about him is his centrality to ancient Greek culture.

About the translator

Emily Wilson is a professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Blurb

Composed at the rosy-fingered dawn of world literature almost three millennia ago, The Odyssey is a poem about violence and the aftermath of war; about wealth, poverty and power; about marriage and family; about travelers, hospitality, and the yearning for home.

This fresh, authoritative translation captures the beauty of this ancient poem as well as the drama of its narrative. Its characters are unforgettable, none more so than the “complicated” hero himself, a man of many disguises, many tricks, and many moods, who emerges in this version as a more fully rounded human being than ever before.

Written in iambic pentameter verse and a vivid, contemporary idiom, Emily Wilson’s Odyssey sings with a voice that echoes Homer’s music; matching the number of lines in the Greek original, the poem sails along at Homer’s swift, smooth pace.

A fascinating, informative introduction explores the Bronze Age milieu that produced the epic, the poem’s major themes, the controversies about its origins, and the unparalleled scope of its impact and influence. Maps drawn especially for this volume, a pronunciation glossary, and extensive notes and summaries of each book make this is an Odyssey that will be treasured by a new generation of readers.

Review

The Odyssey is one of history’s greatest stories and you can see why. It has monsters, fighting, adventure, gods, violence and much more. It does not stay still for a moment and  Wilson’s translation keeps the story fluid and easy to read.

The introduction by Wilson was fantastic and I could not put it down. I will admit sometimes I struggle with introductions to books mainly because sometimes the people who write them always come across as rather stuck up and they love to use extremely long words which are just not necessary. Wilson however writes an amazingly informative introduction that is interesting and keeps you hooked on every word. It was a joy to read and left me excited to start the epic poem. I also enjoyed the translator’s notes as it really showed how Wilson translated the poem and why she did certain things.

The poem was equally as good and again I could not put it down. It is a tale well known and has been translated by many different people through the years and many versions have been published. This translation in my opinion was stunning. It kept the flow of the poem and was almost song like to read which fit well as they think originally it would have been told orally.

Odysseus has a seriously rough deal. He spent 10 years at war in Troy and then he can’t get home. His journey is filled with monsters, women who want him as husband, and the loss of his men. Odysseus is cunning though and uses his skills at lying to get him out of problems with a little help from certain gods.

I highly recommend this book to people with a classical background and to people who have never read a classical book and want to try one. It is such a good read and one I will happily read again. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons.

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The Iliad by Homer (Review)

The Iliad by Homer (translated by Alexander Pope)

About the author

Homer is the presumed author of the Iliad and the Odyssey. There are loads of legends regarding the life of Homer however, what we can definitely confirm about him is his centrality to ancient Greek culture.

About the translator

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) is considered one of the greatest English poets, and the foremost poet of the early eighteenth century. He is best known for his satirical and discursive poetry, and his translations of the Iliad and the Odyssesy.

Blurb

The Iliad in Classical Attic; sometimes referred to as the Song of Ilion or Song of Ilium) is an ancient Greek epic poem in dactylic hexameter, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy (Ilium) by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles.

Review

I have been meaning to read this for many years and have finally got around to it and so I chose Alexander Pope’s translation that I had also used for a recent assignment.

Although I had never read this in its entirety before I am well aware of the story and have loved anything Greek Myth based since I can remember.

It took me a while to get into this as I must admit I found the translation rather stilted to begin with. However, once I got into the style I really began to enjoy the text and was happily reading it whenever I could.

This poem is absolutely wonderful. It has love, sex, violence, friendship and much more. Oh and it also has some very interfering Greek Gods who can’t help but meddle in the Greek and Trojan affairs.

The war between the Trojans and the Greeks begins because of Paris stealing Helen from Menelaus, or Helen went willingly depending on your take of events. Menelaus goes to his brother Agamemnon who immediately uses the situation to go to war on the Trojans who he has long wanted to conquer. Achilles the half man half god hero is the main character in this tale who goes to war with Agamemnon. Achilles does not take being told what to do well though and causes many problems for Agamemnon, including refusing to fight in the war for a very long time.

This is essentially a love story and not a love story about Paris and Helen. This is the love story of Achilles and Patroclus. Patroclus is everything that Achilles isn’t. He is a much better man, he is loving and he hates to see all the death caused by the war, he wants to help stop this war. Achilles on the other hand is too proud and when his pride is injured he refuses to help and does not care about the damage it causes.

Overall, I can see why this book has lasted through the centuries as I absolutely loved this book and I really want to read other translations of the text to see how different translators treat the story. I give this book a big 5 out of 5 Dragons.

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The Dolphins, the Whales and the Gudgeon by Aesop (Review)

The Dolphins, the Whales and the Gudgeon by Aesop

About the author

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Aesop (c. 620-564 BCE) was a Greek fabulist and storyteller credited with a number of fables now collectively known as Aesop’s Fables.

Blurb

Aesop’s animal fables are some of the earliest stories ever told, thought to have been composed by a slave in Greek antiquity and giving glimpses of a world that is harsh, pitiless and yet also eerily familiar.

Review

Having never read Aesop’s Fables I thought reading this little book of just some of them would be a good introduction to them and now I will be honest I desperately want to read the complete book.

I started reading this little book thinking that I would dip in and out of it but I could not put it down. I just loved every fable and could not believe how relatable they still are for the modern day. These fables will never age in my opinion.

Aesop was clearly a man who had met a lot of people and seen a lot of life to have come up with so many of these very true fables. I really loved how most of the fables used animals instead of people and these animals did not follow the traditional stereotypes of animals so in The Ageing Lion and the Fox the lion is sly and cunning and the fox is the clever one who works out what the lion is doing. Where usually we think of a lion as a brave and noble creature, Aesop is telling us not to judge a book by its cover.

I loved this little book and it took me a tea break to read it. The book made me laugh, it made me smile and it made me think. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons and I highly recommend it to everyone.

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The Complete Poems by Catullus (Review)

The Complete Poems by Catullus (Translated by Guy Lee)

About the author

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Gaius Valerius Catullus (c. 84-c. 54 BC) was a Latin poet of the late Romans Republic. He favoured writing about personal life rather than the classical heroes.

About the translator

Guy Lee was a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge. He is the translator of numerous Latin texts including works by Ovid, Virgil, Tibillius, and Persuis.

Blurb

Of all Greek and Latin poets Catullus is perhaps the most accessible to the modern reader. Dealing candidly with the basic human emotions of love and hate, his virile, personal tone exerts a powerful appeal on all kinds of readers. The 116 poems collected in this new translation include the famous Lesbia poems and display the full range of Catullus’s mastery of lyric meter, mythological themes, and epigrammatic invective and wit.

Review

I had to read about 40 of the poems from this book for one of the assignments in my Masters but I loved the poems so much that I decided to read the whole book.

This book has the Latin on the left hand page and the translation opposite which was a massive help when I was writing about how different translators have treated certain poems. At the beginning of the book there is lengthy introduction by Guy Lee the translator which is very informative as it gives you details about Catullus’ life, work and translation. I loved this introduction as it was very interesting and gave me a compact introduction to Catullus. The Explanatory notes were also useful and the Appendices.

This book of poems had me laughing out loud and that is not something I do often when reading poetry as I am not generally a poetry fan. I loved the humour in the poems and I will be honest I was quite shocked at how rude some of the poems were. Some poems were just two lines long and some were pages and I will be honest the lengthier ones could be a struggle to read in full.

I will be honest I have taken breaks from the book and have dipped in and out of the poems. I have also returned to old favourites and re-read them with joy. I have also found some of the poems useful to reference in my assignments.

I really enjoyed the book and I am grateful for it being part of my required reading because it has been a good read. It is also in my opinion a good translation because it is less wooden than certain translations I have also read. I highly recommend this book of poems to people who want to read more of the classics. I give this book 3 out of 5 Dragons because I did find some of the lengthier poems a bit trying.

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The Fall of Icarus by Ovid (Review)

The Fall of Icarus by Ovid

About the author

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Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC-17/18AD), known as Ovid in the English speaking world, was a Roman poet who lived during the reign of Augustus.

Blurb

Enduring myths of vengeful gods and tragically flawed mortals from ancient Rome’s great poet. Ovid tells the tales of Theseus and the Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus, the Calydonian Boar-Hunt, and many other famous myths.

Review

I really enjoyed this little book and I thought the translation flowed well. This little book contains lots of well known myths and legends that are a joy to read.

I had a teacher at school who loved the Fall of Icarus and told it to us often and reading it brought back a lot of fond memories.

The myths flowed well from one to the other and were easy to read.

I loved this book and I found it a wonderful glimpse into Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I have given this book 5 out 5 Dragons.

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The Madness of Cambyses by Herodotus (Review)

The Madness of Cambyses by Herodotus

About the author

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Herodotus c. 484-425 BCE was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus in the Persian Empire. He is known for having written the book The Histories.

Blurb

The story of the great and mad Cambyses, King of Persia, told by part-historian, part-mythmaker Herodotus of Halicarnassus.

Review

Just recently I dug out my collection of Little Black Classics and selected all the ancient Greek and Roman books to read because I thought they would be good background reading for my course and this is the first one I have read.

This little book is only 50 pages long and is a nice little snippet from the main book The Histories by Herodotus. I happily read it enjoying the sunshine we have been having and drinking a nice mug of tea.

The beginning was a bit hard to digest due to all the different names but once I got past that I really enjoyed the book. The translation is a little wooden for me but it still flowed nicely. I must admit this did make me giggle as King Cambyses is completely mental and just kills everyone for the slightest thing and in most cases this is like cutting off his own nose to spite his face, because all this death doesn’t do him any favours.

Herodotus does meander about a bit with his knowledge but I loved that because you learn extra little bits about what the ancients thought about different cultures. Some facts Herodotus tells you definitely come across more as myths but I liked that because that is what the ancients believed.

I really enjoyed this little book, it was a quick and knowledgeable read and it was fascinating to see one of the world’s earliest historians at work. I highly recommend this little book to people who are interested in the ancient world and to people who want a gentle introduction into some ancient texts. I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons.

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming

About the author

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Ian Lancaster Fleming was a British author, journalist and Second World War Navy Commander. He was a grandson of the Scottish financier Robert Fleming, who founded the Scottish American Investment Trust and the merchant bank Robert Fleming & Co.

Fleming is best remembered for creating the character of James Bond and chronicling his adventures in twelve novels and nine short stories. Additionally, Fleming wrote the children’s story Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and two non-fiction books.

Blurb

“With the proceeds from his latest invention, Crackpot Whistling Sweets, Commander Caractacus Pott buys his family their first car. It looks like a wreck, but once restored it turns out to be no ordinary vehicle: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a magical car which can fly, swim and even think. Chitty and the eccentric, plucky Pott family set off on a succession of increasingly perilous adventures that take them across the English Channel and all the way to Paris.

Review

I will be honest I have never read Chitty Chitty Bang Bang but I absolutely love the film and watched it again over Easter which made me think it was high time to read the book. Thankfully I had some Waterstones points to order the book.

I was so excited when I started reading this book and it was just perfect, I loved everything about it. The first thing that I did notice was that the book and film are completely different. Now I know that there are always differences between the book and film but this was major, it was like Roald Dahl and Ken Hughes who wrote the screenplay only read the first few chapters of the book and did not bother with the rest of the book.

Thankfully, I did love the book just as much as the film. I also loved the background information that you got in the introduction about the original Chitty Bang Bang built by Count Zborowski.

The Pott family are just adorable, the perfect eccentric family. Caractacus the father is an inventor and explorer but he is much more interested in his inventing. Mimsie is the mother who lets Caractacus get on with his inventing and supports whatever he suggests. The twins Jeremy and Jemima love their crazy family and also fully support their father. The twins also go to private school so their adventure with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has to be during their school holidays.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a magical car that is part of the family and you can’t help but feel for the car when you read about her. She comes across as that wonderful favourite family pet.

The story is beautifully written and it does feel like a James Bond story but for children which I love. I adored this book and highly recommend it for children and adults. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons.

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Andromache, Hecuba, Trojan Women by Euripides (Review)

Andromache, Hecuba, Trojan Women by Euripides

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About the author

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Euripides (Ancient Greek: Εὐριπίδης) (ca. 480 BC–406 BC) was the last of the three great tragedians of classical Athens (the other two being Aeschylus and Sophocles). Ancient scholars thought that Euripides had written ninety-five plays, although four of those were probably written by Critias. Eighteen of Euripides’ plays have survived complete. It is now widely believed that what was thought to be a nineteenth, Rhesus, was probably not by Euripides. Fragments, some substantial, of most of the other plays also survive. More of his plays have survived than those of Aeschylus and Sophocles together, partly because of the chance preservation of a manuscript that was probably part of a complete collection of his works in alphabetical order.

Blurb

Diane Arnson Svarlien’s translation of Euripides’ Andromache, Hecuba, and Trojan Women exhibits the same scholarly and poetic standards that have won praise for her Alcestis, Medea, Hippolytus. Ruth Scodel’s Introduction examines the cultural and political context in which Euripides wrote, and provides analysis of the themes, structure, and characters of the plays included. Her notes offer expert guidance to readers encountering these works for the first time.

Review

I got this book because Trojan Women is a set text that I am studying for my course but I must admit that I enjoyed reading Trojan Women so much I read the whole book.

I found the introduction and notes by Ruth Scodel hugely informative and really helpful with my research but also not too in depth and easy to read which was wonderful because sometimes introductions can be a bit of bore I find.

Andromache

I loved this play and my heart bled for poor Andromache, she really has not had the best of lives having already suffered losing her child and husband in Troy she now suffers in her new home as Neoptolemus’ concubine and risks losing everything including her life again.

Andromache is a wonderful character who tries to do everything she can to save her own life and her child’s and works out a plan that if it works should keep them both safe.

Hermione is a spoilt brat who is used to getting her own way and will do anything to get it and her father will let her get her own way. I found her character rather annoying but you could tell that was what Euripides was after.

My favourite character was Peleus, he was a true gentleman who though mature in years was not frightened to stand up for the weak and vulnerable and send Menelaus scurrying off with his tail between his legs.

I loved this play and would love to see it on stage one day.

Hecuba

Wow! What a character Hecuba is in this play. After everything she has been through with the fall of Troy and the knowledge that her future is bleak she still has strength.

Hecuba has lost her kingdom, her husband, most of her children but she believes her one son and some Trojan treasure is safe with a family friend Polymestor. However, she discovers that her beloved son Polydorus is no longer safe and Hecuba seeks revenge.

Agamemnon in this play seems very different to the Agamemnon that I am used to. He listens to Hecuba’s plea and lets her carry out her plan. He shows pity and in my opinion almost reverence for the fallen queen.

I loved this play because it showed the true power of a woman who seeks revenge.

Trojan Women

This play was heart breaking, you can’t help but feel sorry for the women of Troy and see the unfairness of war on those who are left behind.

Hecuba in this play disappointed me slightly because when she was mourning what she had lost the main thing she kept focusing on was her kingdom and the fact she was no longer queen. Her lost family always seemed to be an after thought.

Cassandra was perfect in my opinion and a hard act for any actress to perform. Poor Cassandra who has been dealt such a hard blow and is now mad.

Andromache, the perfect wife who is now left with nothing who you can’t help but pity. A stark contrast to Helen that you can’t help but hate.

Helen, the woman who brings destruction wherever she goes but gets away with it because of her beauty. Menelaus was basically a lamb to slaughter where Helen was concerned. As much as the women of Troy hated her and Hecuba made the case pretty clear that Helen should be punished, you just know that Menelaus will buckle and let Helen get away with her deeds.

All in all I loved these plays and thought the translation by Diane Arnson Svarlien was really well done, the added stage directions were also excellent. I give this book a big 5 out of 5 Dragons.

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Trojan Women by Seneca (Review)

Trojan Women by Seneca (Translated by Frederick Ahl)

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About the author

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Lucius Annaeus Seneca (often known simply as Seneca) (ca. 4 BC – 65 AD) was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature. He was tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero. While he was later forced to commit suicide for alleged complicity in the Pisonian conspiracy to assassinate Nero, the last of the Julio-Claudian emperors, he may have been innocent.

Blurb

This free and eloquent translation skilfully reproduces the imagery, power, and frequent irony and sarcasm of Seneca’s language.

Review

I recently read this play because it is required reading for my course, however before this my course had made me read Euripides’ Trojan Women and I find that personally I much prefer Euripides’ interpretation.

The play is about the aftermath of the war of Troy and is about the fate of the survivors of Troy which is sadly the women of Troy who no longer have husbands, fathers or brothers. They are on their own and their fates are left in the hands of the Greeks and those fates will not be good. There are also two tragedies left in the play for the audience to see.

I did enjoy Seneca’s interpretation but I did find it very long winded and some of the speeches just seemed to drag for me and because of this I found it hard to visualise the play on the stage. I also found the language quite stilted but this could be because of the translation by Frederick Ahl.

The other issue I did not like was I found the play overly graphic in places and found it hard to read. I just found the detail of the gore rather overboard but I suppose this is what the Romans enjoyed on stage.

I liked the play and must admit that if I had not read Euripides’ version first I might have enjoyed it more but Euripides’ version is faster paced and I could not put it down but Seneca’s version I was quite happy to have a break from.

I also really enjoyed the introduction by Frederick Ahl and found it very informative but did find it rather amusing to see differences between Ahl’s information and information from what I have discovered in my research.

Overall I found this play ok but it just lacked the wow factor for me, maybe I prefer the Greek playwrights to the Roman playwrights but it was a good read and I am glad I have discovered the works of Seneca and hope to read more. I give this play and translation 3 out of 5 Dragons.

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