Sunday, April 27, 2008
My wife and I are taking a tour through the Odyssey as I push on to Xenophon's Education of Cyrus in my personal reading. Reading three Greek works at once with three different translators allows you to pick up on the peculiar cadence of Greek speech. It also begins to push you into the Greek mindset: love of well-turned phrases, logical argument, and extended discourse upon a multitude of topics, just to name some of the tendencies I've noticed. The Greeks come down to us mainly through their writing, but these qualities remind us that Greece was primarily an oral culture with writing serving as an aid to memory. The fact that their foundational works, The Iliad and The Odyssey, are oral poems bears witness to this. Greek books were made to be read aloud, and there is a certain pleasure that comes from experiencing them that way. What may seem dull or tedious on the page, comes to life when read out-loud with voice and intonation. Give it a try. Or as Fitzgerald puts it: "Lift the great song again!"
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Monday, April 14, 2008
A Torrey tutor once asked me if I thought we should read Xenophon in Torrey. It's a hard question. Xenophon is what we might label a "minor genius." He was on the outskirts of the Socratic circle in Athens, and may have had connections to Thucydides as well. His works, numerous by ancient standards, fail to rise to the level of Plato and Thucydides but have still enjoyed a remarkable popularity down through the ages. So why read Xenophon? Since I'm working my way through his "Hellenica" right now, I thought I'd try and tackle that question.
1. He's our only fully extant source for the period beginning at the end of the Peloponnesian War and ending with the hegemony of Philip of Macedon. As such, he is also the lone chronicler of the Spartan Empire.
2. He's one of our few sources for the Achamaenid Persian Empire. The other two major sources are the Bible and Herodotus.
3. He shows us what an average Greek trying to live according to Socrates' teachings actually looked like.
4. He knows more and presents more of the inner-workings of Sparta than any other Ancient writer.
5. As a memoirist, he has an attractive and engaging style and he helped pioneer the genre.
6. If he's dumber than Socrates, he's still smarter than you.
Those are just my preliminary thoughts. If something further attracts my attention, I'll post it here.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
We're back from Washington and trying to get over the jet lag. My back and stomach survived the trip, though I'm still in a fair amount of on and off pain. Here's one of my favorite pictures from the trip. The image is of the capital rotunda, and the fresco is called the "Apotheosis of George Washington."