Thursday, November 11, 2010


The Iliad
Many are initially interested; few have the time. It's like living in a perpetual state of pressured haiku. One opens the text.  One opens the dictionary. One considers every word.  One considers the author's style and genre.  One writes the meanings in a notebook.  One experiments with meaning. 

The conciseness can be puzzling.  

Two common particles, μέν and δέ, appear at the beginnings of successive clauses of sentences. Often they are not translated.   The former means "on the one hand," the latter "on the other hand."  But it's impossible to translate.  Eight English words for two Greek.

Here is a literal translation of a μέν...δέ sentence from Herodotus:
On the one hand the sailors sailed away to Corinth, but they say that the dolphin, having picked up Arion by swimming under him, carried him to Taenarum.

As a student I loved reading Greek.  Spreading the books out across a table.  The cat jumping on the dictionary and chasing my pen.  Okay, ten minutes.  Then play with the cat.  Then ten more hours of Greek.

None of my professors were interested in Herodotus.  We stuck to literature:  we didn't read the Histories.

Here's your five-second introduction to Herodotus.  Cicero called him the Father of History; Herodotus's method of ἱστορία (inquiry) depended on interviewing people about legends, myth, and past events. He documented some eyewitness accounts.  He described the history of the Persian invasions of Greece in 490 and 480-479 B.C.

Much as I love the Greek, dare I admit I find the Latin more fascinating?  

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