Saturday, December 29, 2007

Romance of 3 Kingdoms, Neon Rain, Bluebear, Night Vision, Out, Treasure Island

Last week was blessed vacation week, and a time, I thought, to catch up on a lot of reading. More fool I. Instead, I ended up halfway through 3 books, between reading to the kids and trying to decide what's a beach book and trying not to take my Japanese dictionary to the beach...

The one book I managed to finish was James Lee Burke's The Neon Rain. I had high hopes for this, because I loved Cimarron Rose, and Neon Rain is the start of his other long-running series, about Dave Robicheaux, a cajun detective. Unfortunately, I think Burke's reach exceeded his grasp in this one. The book wants to be all about the horrors of American policy in Nicaragua, and how immoral it is to use the Sandinistas, but that's hard to pull off when the vantage point is a policeman in New Orleans. As a result, it always feels like the real story happens before the novel, and Dave Robicheaux is just cleaning up some loose ends that don't really matter so much.

On the plane, I started reading The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear to the kids. This German novel is the story the adventures of a bluebear from his earliest youth through 13 1/2 lives (bluebears live 27 lives, the narrator tells us). Only a 100 pages in, because reading out loud is slow going, but the book is very funny, and the illustrations are very cute. (Drawn by the author). The book is very episodic, and Jenna tells me it remains so (she's halfway through), but that plays to the author's strengths, I think, which is that he throws one neat idea out after another. From a Giant whale that is also related to sharks, cyclopes, and saurians, to a carnivorous plant-island, to minipirates, the author's inventiveness drives this book, and it would be a shame to tie it down too much to a strict plot.

On the trip, I began reading The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I'm still only 140 pages in (the first volume is 700 pages -- argh!), and it's slow going. New characters are introduced at a moment's notice, only to be disposed of 5 or 10 pages later. Unfortunately, it's hard to tell when you first meet a character whether he's going to be a major character or not, and my Westerner's bias makes it hard to tell all the Chaos, Changs, Suns and Ts'aos apart. That having been said, once I hit my stride, I've been enjoying the book tremendously. One interesting thing to me is how amoral almost all of the major characters are (I'll call anyone who survives for 2 chapters a major character). They change allegiance for money on a regular basis, they ignore warnings from Heaven, they desert their underlings without a second thought, and, when someone finally comes along to punish them, it turns out that the new guy is just as bad as the one before. This is really different from, say, The Tale of the Heike, which has a very strong moral current--the author of that book always lets you know that the Taira clan deserve to be brought down. The author of the Romance is much more ambivalent about the movements of history.

I began Night Vision by Paul Levine, but there isn't much to say about it. It's kind of funny, and that's it. I also read more of Out, but nothing new there either.

I've been reading Treasure Island to Moshe, and it really is a wonderful book. Stevenson has a great knack for having his people speak very differently, which is something I always admire in an author. Dr. Livesey is very easy for the kids to understand, whereas the latest chapter we read is almost all Long John Silver talking, and it's in such a thick argot that I had to translate constantly for the kids.

Hopefully I'll make some headway on some of these books, and be able to give an actual comment on them later.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

More Leigh Brackett

Other than a brief foray into the Kugel book and a bit more with Passionate Marriage, I've been plugging steadily through The Sand Kings of Mars. I'm reading the third Eric John Stark story right now--I hadn't realized that she'd only written three (other than the Skaith books, much later). In some ways he's a Tarzan-like character, but I love how economically she skips over his early childhood in about 4 sentences of dialogue. It gives us the essentials (raised by aboriginals on Mercury who were killed off by miners, Stark was caged by those miners, then freed by Earthman Ashton and brought into civilization).

We skip a lot of the tedious details that, not only don't we care about (how did Stark end up with aboriginals? How did Ashton educate him?), but would at best weaken the story. The story of how Tarzan learned to read is pretty silly, and his learning to talk is even worse, and, in any case, we just want to jump to the scenes where he does things like lay a bet with the Englishmen that he can walk into the jungle and bring out a dead lion. This isn't deep literature, and Brackett knows how to focus on what's important for her story.

Brackett, of course, is constantly lumped in with C. L. Moore, since they were the 2 major women sf writers in the pulps, and they both did the space opera thing, as well as having a strain of feminism in their work. I probably need to read Moore again, but I think I like her stories better. Moore tends to be a bit more surprising about who's good and evil, and her stories have a more melancholy touch to them, where the hero may well be worse off at the end than at the beginning. (I'm thinking specifically of "Shambleau" and "Black God's Kiss," here, which I think are fantastic stories).

Maybe a trip down memory lane by re-reading the Northwest Smith stories is called for...

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Alta, Leigh Brackett, Kugel, Iliad

A real hodgepodge, and that's leaving out Passionate Marriage, which Jenna has me reading.

For whatever reason, I've started reading The Books of Great Alta to Moshe. I'd forgotten how amazing they are, a real showpiece for Jane Yolen's talents. She switches tones so effortlessly in these books that it's a joy to read them. Each section starts with a "myth" section, which tends to be grand and sweeping, then a "legend" that's somehow related to the story to come. Then she jumps in and out of the actual story to intersperse it with lullabies, histories, ballads, and so forth. It's a tour de force in the same way that Possession is. (Although Possession is the better book)

I picked up a book of Leigh Brackett's short stories from the 40s and 50s, and I'm into the fourth one. She was writing, of course, in the heyday of the pulps, and so it's odd to see how non-pulpy the stories are. Not the plots, which are very space operatic, but the writing itself is very sensual and adult, which is not something I tend to ascribe to the writers of the day (Van Vogt, Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, et al). Then again, the fourth story is a collaboration with Rab Bradbury, which reminds me that he was also writing SF back then, and his writing is also beautiful, and not what we think of as pulpish writing (though Bradbury clearly had more literary goals than Brackett, which is why he managed to migrate to slicks like the Atlantic Monthly).

Oddly enough, all four of the stories I've read so far involve some sort of hypnosis or mind control--I've never thought of that as a particular trait of Brackett's style. But I haven't read as much of her work as I'd like, which I why I picked up this collection in the first place. I do see that most of her work was not sold to Campbell, who was the editor of the big SF magazine at the time, and whom Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke all credit with refining their styles. That may be why her stories stick out as so different from theirs (although it's interesting to speculate whether they're similar because of Campbell's interest, or whether Campbell just happened to work well with that sort of writer).

This shabbat I also read another chapter in Kugel's Jacob's Ladder, this one about the rape of Dinah. This one really feels like it was very little altered from an original paper that it's based on (not that I'm going to check...) He focuses very much on the Testament of Levi, an account from the second Temple period purporting to be Levi's recounting of his story to his sons. Apparently, there's a set of 12 of these, one for each brother, and Kugel talks a bit about the Testament of Simeon as well, since he was the other brother he slew the Shechemites. The issue of the Dinah story for early commentators is that Simeon and Levi seem to act pretty reprehensibly--they slay every man in Shechem after tricking them to undergo circumcision. Jacob disapproves, but it doesn't seem to go any farther--they're never actually punished for this.

Kugel traces a couple of different stories which aim to show that, in fact, Simeon and Levi acted according to God's will, where some versions even have them taking up special angelic swords for the occasion. He also shows how the commentaries can give an indirect view of the period; in this case, we can deduce something about different attitudes to intermarriage. (We can read Jacob's assent to the circumcision proposal as saying that he would've supported an intermarriage with Shechem, and then Levi becomes the (righteous?) avenger who says that this cannot happen).

I also read a bit more of book 13 of the Iliad, where Meriones meets Idomeneus in the back lines, and each tries to explain why he's there instead of in the front lines. It's kind of funny in it's own way, and Homer unquestionably ends it on a joke, so I wonder if it was thrown in as a bit of a break from all the fighting going on, before the aristeia Idomeneus which is coming up.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Out, Long Halloween

I read The Long Halloween over shabbat. I was intrigued, because I saw that it had gotten the "absolute" treatment, and I liked Time Sale's work back when he was an indie artist writing Billi 99.

The good news is, I still like his art. The bad news is that the story was not very good. Loeb, the writer, structures the story in chapters such that each one takes place on a holiday(Halloween, Christmas, 4th of July, etc). Each one also has a cameo by one of Batman's super-foes. Since the story is set early in Batman's career, Loeb seems to be trying to make a point about how Batman's presence draws these villains to Gotham (He even has Gordon and other characters say something to the effect of "none of these freaks were here before Batman came," just so we readers don't miss the point). The only problem is that he never actually bothers making the connection, and most of the villains have no reason for being there at all--they're just there to show up in the cameos for that holiday, then go away again.

Then there's the surprise ending. Lafferty may not have been 100% correct when he said that every book would be better without the last couple of pages, but he was sure right about this book. It's a surprise, but it loses any impact, because it makes no sense in the context of what's come before. You can't even go back to the beginning and look at it in a different light--it just makes no sense.

Also moved along in Natsuo Kirino's Out. I started the 4th chapter feeling very let down by the book--it really hadn't been what I'd been hoping for. But in this chapter, the police investigation into Kenji's murder finally gets under way, and Kirino's talents come to the fore. I think that everything up till this point (Masako's near-rape, Kenji's murder and disposal, the yakuza's crimes) are presented for shock value, and it's just not that interesting. (It probably doesn't help that I'm reading it through the filter of Japanese, which has an automatic distancing effect, lessening the shock value)

Here, though, we see Masako under pressure, and, even though we know what's going to happen, it's still very tense. I think that's one of the marks of a good story-teller -- even though we know how a situation is going to come out, she can still ratchet up the tension. I'm looking forward to finishing up the first book.

I started Meir Shalev's Fontanelle, if you can call 2 paragraphs starting. My dictionary was utterly useless by the time I hit the fourth word, so I've ordered a new one that should help. Sadly, I can't carry the Even Shushan everywhere I go.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Harry Potter, James Kugel, Metamorphoses

I finished the last Harry Potter book on Saturday. Like all the books after 3, it could've used a lot of editing, but ever so much more so. For most of the first half, Harry, Hermione, and Ron are wandering around, going nowhere in their quest for the horcruxes. Rowling wants you to realize how hard it is to figure anything out, and so they make absolutely no progress for 300 pages. In the earlier books, though, while Harry was trying to figure out the evil plot of the moment, there were other distractions around, like quidditch, arguing with Snape, not to mention classes. In this book, we have none of those things, and it ends up feeling very sterile.

I think Rowling's great strength is the way she can toss out neat ideas one after another. Unfortunately, by the time we get to Deathly Hallows, her previous ideas are starting to tie her down a bit. I think that's why she ends up with tons of ad hoc rules to explain the prophecy (Voldemort's soul is split into 7 pieces. No, it's 8 pieces. And one of them's in Harry. And wands give their allegiance to someone who beats their owner. And so on and so on). I'm looking forward to her starting something new where she can wipe the slate clean--I'm hoping she doesn't write another HP book.

I also started Jacob's Ladder, an analysis of midrashim connected with Jacob. The first chapter (all that I've read so far) is about the eponymous ladder. The midrashists were concerned with a few problems about the ladder. Why didn't God speak to Jacob using regular language, instead choosing a vision of a ladder? What does the vision mean? Why does Jacob wake up fearful from what should be a good vision?

The midrashists have a few different answers--the commonality of them all is that the ladder was real, not a dream. This solves the problem of how God spoke to Jacob; it wasn't through the ladder, it was in plain speech. The question then is, what is the symbolism of the ladder? One answer is that it's not symbolic; the angels are going up and down to look at Jacob because he's such a perfect human being. Alternatively, the ladder symbolizes the length of time that the other nations will rule over Israel, with one angel representing the Persians, one the Greeks, and so on. And the message to Jacob (and us, of course) is to take heart--no angel will go up the ladder indefinitely; at some point, they all come down, and then Israel will rise again.

I also finished book I of the Metamorphoses. That's the Io story, the Syrinx story, and the beginning of Phaethon. It's an odd place for a book break--Phaethon is introduced, along with the conflict that will lead him to drive the chariot of the sun, but things are left hanging there. Id somehow remembered that the books are more independent than that, but I read it in English so long ago...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tom Jones concluded

Finished Tom Jones today. There was one bit that reminded me of Wodehouse, of all things, where Tom has to get out of a romantic entanglement. The solution is for him to propose marriage, knowing that the woman will reject it. Of course, in a Wodehouse story this wouldn't have worked; in Tom Jones it sort of does.

We start book 17 at Tom's lowest point, almost. He's in jail for murder, Sophia hates him (and is about to be married against her will), and he's about to find out that he's committed incest. Fielding then has a chapter which essentially says, "Things are really black for our hero, and there's pretty much no way out, since I've promised you not to use a deus ex machina." Of course, we know that things will work out, since this is a comedy, and so we know that Fielding is toying with us when he says that we may as well stop reading now, since he'll probably just have Tom killed off.

Fielding then concludes with about a dozen sudden revelations--Allworthy realizes that Tom always esteemed him, Sophie learns the truth of Tom's engagement, Tom learns that he is not actually on trial for murder, and we the readers finally learn who Tom's parents actually were.
It's easy to mock this style of resolution now--it became a staple of Dickens' fiction, along with other Victorian novelists. But I wonder what Fielding's audience thought at the time. For that matter, I wonder what Fielding intended--he's promised us no deus ex machina (which promise he literally keeps, but certainly not the spirit), but he also says that his last book (with all its resolutions) is very serious, that he doesn't have time in it for the raillery of the previous books. And yet, this is arguably the most comic book of the whole work, in the old-fashioned sense, where comic means a happy ending.

Again and again, Fielding affects to present a history--he calls it a history, he tells us that he can't know certain things, and so on. At the same time, he also subverts the realism of the book with his commentary on the action--when he says that he's now put his hero in an impossible position, and that he (Fielding) can't possibly get him (Jones) out of trouble, he's reminding us that Fielding is the omnipotent author, who can in fact do whatever he wants.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tom Jones, Girl Genius, Harry Potter, Tintin, Cold Shoulder Road

Whew! That's a lot of titles.

I just finished reading Cold Shoulder Road to the little guys. Joan Aiken writes wonderful dialog--I love the way different characters use different dialects, and you can practically hear their voices. I wasn't so thrilled with the deus ex machina near the end, where it turns out that de la Twite was wearing radioactive stones (or some such thing). Which seems odd to say, considering that just about every book in the series has some sort of deus ex... But I think it's because the others tended to be Dickensian (kids have lockets which just happen to tie them to the Duke, which is exposed at just the right time, that sort of thing), which fit in perfectly with the setting. This just came out of nowhere. Still an excellent book, though.

I just finished reading The Crab with the Golden Claws to the littlest guy. Lots of fun. I think Herge really hit his stride in the book before this one (King Ottokar's Sceptre). There's a lot less herky-jerkiness in the plot, although you can still tell it was written for the newspapers. But Herge was obviously at the point where he could get away with occasional sections that don't have a cliff-hanger or punch-line -- they just move the story along -- and that helps with the pacing. We're now reading The Shooting Star, which isn't one of my favorites; I think it feels like Herge changed his mind about what kind of story it was several times, and it really shows.

Speaking of comics, but for adults, I'm up to book 5 of Girl Genius. Not much to say about it, though, except that the art at the beginning seems sloppy. But halfway through, Foglio seems to have settled down. Fortunately the writing is top-notch all the way through so far.

I was really tired last night, so Tom Jones was a stretch. (Book 13 starts with a long invocation of the muse, which is very funny, but not so easy to read). So I started on the last Harry Potter book. I'm about 100 pages in, and it's feeling a bit stop-and-go. 4 chapters go by where nothing happens, there's a big set-piece where Harry leaves the Dursley's house, and then nothing happens again for a couple of chapters. I'm hoping the pace evens out a bit as the book picks up speed.

Today though, I jumped back into Tom Jones. I love how consistently surprising Fielding can be. The invocation of the muse of avarice came out of nowhere, and was very funny. Then we get the story of Nightingale and Miss Miller. I first expected Nightingale to abandon Miss Miller completely, but Tom convinces him to come back, while he (Tom) talks to Nightingale, Sr. Then I was expecting Tom to be a persuasive orator, but that didn't happen either--Nightingale Sr insists that his son break off the marriage to Miller. But his brother interrupts, and says that a good marriage is more important than money, and I'm thinking the brother will help Nightingale marry Miss Miller. Then it turns out that the brother decides to dissuade Nightingale from the marriage as well--he had been under the misapprehension that they were already married, and was trying to make the best of a bad situation.

None of these developments are surprising in a bad way--they're all consistent with the characters, and each seems logical in retrospect, which makes for some fun reading, and leaves the reader up in the air what'll happen; although this is a broadly funny book, not every character comes out well. In fact, Fielding points out in one of his introductory chapters that the idea that virtuous characters end up well is an absurdly naive idea; since he intends to write a true-to-life novel, he can't have that happen in his novel either.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Io's transformation, inu yasha 1

I got part-way through the Io story today, up to the story of Syrinx. I guess it's been a long time since I read the story (or maybe my translation wasn't so good), but I didn't remember how cold Io's rape is. Zeus woos her for something like 2 lines, notices that she's fled, and in the next line brings down the cloud of darkness and "rapuit pudorem". As bad as Apollo is in the preceding story, he comes off way better than Zeus does.

I've also decided to read more of "Inu Yasha" (I've got a bunch of unread volumes sitting around). But first I decided to refresh my memory of the details by starting over from the beginning (it's a good excuse to read a wonderful comic, anyway). I've always wondered how much she had planned out--inu yasha seems much worse at the beginning than he does later when we learn his motivation. But did Takahashi actually write him with that in mind?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Gentleman's Game, Metamorphoses

Finished Gentleman's Game today. I'm now sure that he made the assassinations anti-climactic on purpose, since he did the same thing a second time. This really focuses the reader's attention on the internal maneuvering going on back home. Overall, I think the book suffers from starting out as a comic--you can sort of tell that as a comic he would've cut the story by about 1/3, and the strain starts to show by the last 80 pages. Too bad, since what came before was really good--about as good as the Queen and Country comics it's based on.

I've also started on Io's story in the Metamorphoses, but I haven't read enough yet to say anything about it.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Ave Q, Cyrano, Gentleman's Game

Jenna and I were in New York this weekend, and took the opportunity to catch a couple of plays.

First up was Avenue Q, the one with the puppets. Very funny, and played well off the Sesame Street tropes. Before the play started, I had wondered how they would get the puppets up and about without your seeing the puppeteers--they just put the puppeteers out there in full view. I'd have thought it would be distracting, but it actually worked really well; mostly you end up watching the puppet anyway, but the puppeteer's face can express emotions that the puppet can't.

We also saw Cyrano, with Kevin Kline and Jennifer Garner. Jenna and I both went into it thinking it was going to be a comedy, and were taken aback by acts 4 and 5... I think the ending grabs you that much more since the beginning is so light--the play gets darker and darker as it progresses.

While in the city, I started reading A Gentleman's Game. It's a thriller about an agent sent in to avenge a bombing on the London Underground. Not too much to say about it yet (about 2/3 through), except that Rucka is obviously much less interested in the actual "thriller" parts than in the people around the action. Our agent is sent in to assassinate the mastermind behind the attack, and then we're told that it succeeded a few paragraphs later. Only then, when it's a bit anti-climactic, do we get a (fairly short) run-through of what actually happened. It's a gutsy move, but I think it works well--it keeps us focused on the behind-the-scenes maneuvering in London and Saudi Arabia.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

More Tom Jones

This is just an insanely long book, I suppose. I finished Book 12, and I'm going to take a break with some lighter fare while I'm in New York, then finish the whole shebang.

Thanks to all the political set pieces, I think I know more about the Jacobites than I wanted to know. It's certainly a different point-of-view than what you find in, say, the Willoughby Chase books, which are very anti-Hanoverian. It's just a bit bizarre--the plot's moving along at a good clip, and then everything stops dead while Fielding talks about what idiots the Jacobites are. Then it moves along again.

Of course, as we see in the intro to this book, Fielding kinda-sorta condones jumping around anyway--he writes that he knows it happens, and his goal is to write a book that's entertaining enough that people don't skip around in it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Tom Jones cont'd

Yesterday, I said I couldn't see what the misanthrope (the man on the Hill) did for the story, but maybe I would if I read further. So... I've read further, and I see that he's supposed to be a contrast to Tom, who likes people and enjoys keeping company with all sorts of people. But, for all that, the 5 chapters of the misanthrope's story don't really work for me.

Other than the fact that Tom disagrees with him, we don't really see him as wrong. He's not funny the way the other foils for Tom are. (Like Blifil, Thwackum, and Square). His story isn't particularly entertaining. So it still doesn't seem to me that the book would be the worse for his absence.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

More Girl Genius, Tom Jones

I finished books 1-4 of Girl Genius. Nothing much to say about, except that it's very funny. Also, on a rapid read-through like this, you start to see how much foreshadowing he's put into the book, which can be hard when the individual issues are months apart.

I'm in book 8 of Tom Jones, where Jones meets an old misanthrope (so the text calls him), who gives a long story about his past life of running away from home, becoming a criminal, and reforming. My edition suggests that this section is important, being placed almost at the center of the novel, but I don't really see how--it seems to me one of the weakest sections of the book, and I wish Fielding had left it out. Maybe it'll be clearer to me as I read more.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sweeney Todd

Jenna and I went to see Sweeney Todd last night. It's not a book, but I'll call it a text, since I want to write about it.

When we got back from the show, we looked up some info about it on the 'net (and, in the process found some people write Sweeney Todd fan fiction, a scary thought). One article quotes Harold Prince (director of the original Broadway production), who said that at first he didn't want to direct a melodrama, but then he read the script and realized that it's not really a melodrama.

And yet it seems to me that, not only is S.T. a melodrama, but that it only works as a melodrama. Sweeney's motivation (he hates the judge, but the judge is unreachable, so he decides to kill the rest of the world) doesn't really make sense as a realistic psychological portrait. At the same time, he's not a pure symbol of, say, capitalistic villainy, or whatever--we're supposed to be somewhat drawn into feeling something for him. Mrs. Lovett is similar--she makes no sense as a realistic portrait, but she doesn't really work well as a symbol of pure capitalism. (After all, her motivation is that she loves Sweeney and wants to marry him; greed is only a small part of what she does).

So, S.T. exists in a space between serious psychological drama and allegory, and with all its ups and downs and grand guignol theatrics, I think it's fair to call it a melodrama.

On another note, Sondheim talks about how S.T. is not a Brechtian play (although the critics at the time called it one) -- he's trying to draw the audience in, not distance them. I don't know to what extent that's true of the original production, which I've never seen, but John Doyle definitely turns in a Brechtian direction. His trick of having the actors double as the orchestra (see photos here) serves very much as a distancing device, as does his minimalist set, where a coffin doubles as a table, a bed, etc. I wonder what Sondheim's reaction is to that...

I guess it'll be interesting to see the movie (which will almost certainly be more "realistic") and see how that affects the emotional kick of the show.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tom Jones, Girl Genius, Iliad

Today, I got through l. 180 of bk 13 of the Iliad, but I don't have much to say about it.

I also read part of Book 2 of Girl Genius, by Phil Foglio. He has this wonderful ability to capture expressions through very simple linework that I really enjoy. In that way, he's a lot like Jeff Smith, where you can have whole pages carried solely by the characters' changing expressions, no need for dialog.

I'm also plugging away at Fielding's Tom Jones -- into Book 7 now. It's a very funny book, which I wasn't particularly expecting (I started reading it because I've heard it's a big influence on Tristram Shandy, which I love; but I didn't know anything else about it). It's also making me a bit curious about the history of marrying for romantic love. Sophia Western, Tom's main love interest, is blocked from marrying her because her father and aunt consider him too far beneath their family. Normally, we can assume that every position they take is diametrically opposed to Fielding's own position.

But Tom's foster father (Squire Allworthy) also feels that the Westerns are too far above Tom, and just about every one of his opinions is correct (as his none-too-subtly points out). His one big fault is that he's too trusting of Blifil, his nephew, and that in general he's more inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. But this doesn't really fall into this category.

Of course, Fielding dodges the issue altogether, because it's pretty clear that Tom is actually of high birth, which is kind of a cheap way out.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Iliad, beginning of book 13, misc thoughts

Today, I spent most of my reading time on the beginning of book 13 of the Iliad. Things are heating up as Hektor continues his assault on the Greeks, leading up to his eventually reaching their ships. I've been using Janko's commentary, part of a 6-book commentary on the Iliad, and, sadly, I think it's the least interesting so far. Janko spends a lot of time on picayune morphological questions, whereas the other books were more focused on larger-scale poetic issues, like the use of caesuras to raise the tension of a line, and how groups of lines might work with each other.

On the other hand, I was struck by one interesting note. Homer refers to the two Ajaxes, Oilean Ajax and Telamonian Ajax, as the Aiantes, which is sometimes a bit of a mess, because they perform different functions in the army--Telamonian Ajax (big Ajax) is a huge spearman on the front lines, and Oilean Ajax (little Ajax) is more of a sling guy in the back lines--so normally there's no reason for them to be near each other. Anyways, Janko says that new research has shown that the Aiantes used to refer to big Ajax and his brother Teucrus, the same way that, say, the Castores refers to Castor and Pollux, but Homer misunderstood the formula, and brought little Ajax into a whole bunch of scenes that were originally just Teucrus and big Ajax. Not only that, but Teucrus is pretty much demoted to a hanger-on in those scenes, and little Ajax gets his part.

So, I think this sets an interesting question for a translator--if the original meaning, going far enough back has Teucrus in that role, should he be brought back or not? That's probably going a bit far, but we can see something like this in Athene's epithet "gray-eyed", which some people translate as owl-eyed, which goes closer to the original meaning. Homer himself, though, probably thought that it meant gray-eyed (or so I understand from the commentaries--I'm not sure how they figure this out!). In a syncretic piece like the Iliad, composed over a long period, I think it's an interesting question for translators whose understanding they should use--the people who invented the original formula or the people who heard it closer to the time when the poem assumed its final form.

Also been reading a bit of Fielding's Tom Jones. More on that some other time--this is long and boring enough already.


I'm starting this blog as a record for myself of my thoughts on whatever I'm reading at the moment. This is really more for me, to sort out my thoughts about what I like/dislike, than for public consumption--so, there will be spoilers galore, and posts will not necessarily make much sense if you haven't read the work in question.