The Odyssey- a Tale of Two Translations

The Odyssey- Homer
Throughout time reading list
How obtained: free ebook (amazon.com, project gutenburg  etc) and MIT online resources


 

Nearly three thousand years old, the Odyssey is the second oldest western story we have recorded (after it’s prequel, the Iliad). It is an epic- a poetical story of heroes and tragedy, gods and feasts.

I started off the journey of reading the odyssey with Alexander Pope’s translation, which I had downloaded onto my kindle. It is written in rhyming couplets, with a summary paragraph at the start of each chapter. This was helpful because often there would be very long, roundabout ways of saying things, made worse by the need to occasionally order words out of the usual order in order to make a rhyme, and break lines in the middle of a sentence. I sometimes found myself tempted to just read the summary paragraphs. On the other hand, when in the right mood, the slow pace combined with the rhythmic nature could be kind of meditative.

When I was about halfway through, I somehow ended up with a couple spare hours. I didn’t have my kindle (what with usually actually having to work at work!) so I found an online version to keep reading. The MIT version is translated by Samuel Butler, and is written in prose. Initially it felt a bit like reading someone telling you about a story, rather than telling you the story itself. But in the end I found that it was more gripping, and the beauty and drama shone through more.

See below for the same quote in the two different versions:

Butler:
Ah how shameless – the way these mortals blame the gods. From us alone they say come all their miseries yes but they themselves with their own reckless ways compound their pains beyond their proper share.

Pope:
Men are so quick to blame the gods: they say
that we devise their misery. But they
themselves- in their depravity- design
grief greater than the griefs that fate assigns.

The Odyssey is a long book, and to tell the truth there were times when I just didn’t care- I didn’t really care what happened to Ulysses, I was tired of everyone’s long speeches that could have been summarised in a few sentences, and was tired of the selfcentredness of many of the characters. But it was interesting to see the ancient Greek’s views of what the world was like a few hundred years before them-Gods interacting with humans, lavish feasts and immediate welcomes from noblemen and so on. And each translation was an experience in itself.

 

There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.

On My Brother’s shoulders

Ty Andre with Allen McMahon
Around the World: Vietnam
How obtained: second hand book sale


 

Ty’s first memories are of a crowded orphanage, where he was relegated to a corner of the room for no-hopers. Crippled by polio he had been sent down the river in a bamboo basket by his mother, and picked up by a fisherman who took him to the orphanage. With barely enough food to survive, and not enough workers to look after the children nor sealed walls to keep the rodents and insects out, life was pretty bleak.

But that was all about to change when a young man named Andre caught a glimpse of him, and then had recurring dreams which he took as a sign from God. Ty was adopted, and against all odds, survived. But that wasn’t the end of the turbulent times. From trying to fit into his new family, in a culture that viewed disability as a curse and  usually did not see charity as a reasonable thing given the intense poverty of most of its citizens, to helping Andre run up a huge orphanage. From navigating life and work, and keeping neutral, amidst three Armies of differing tactics and view points, to being in the middle of active war. From working in the country orphanage and teaching in the city one, to playing by the beach. And eating, always eating everything he could (apparently frogs, snakes, eels and snails can all be made to be quite tasty).

Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam war and the lead up to it, this true story is both a fascinating description of life in Vietnam, and a warning against the side effects of war and politics. The toll taken on the common people was staggering and saddening. But it is also a story of friendship, love and the connections between people that will always remain through all.

Peril at End House- Agatha Christie

“Poirot,” I said. “I have been thinking.”
“An admirable exercise my friend. Continue it.”

Poirot has retired. He scoffs when his friend tells him he should get back into investigating. He turns down a request to help an old friend with a case. He is not going to come out of retirement even if a mystery falls right into his lap. But on the other hand, he would never say never…

And then more dramatically than a case falling into his lap, a bullet lands right in front of him. He notices a hole in the hat of the pretty young owner of the place they are staying at consistent with a bullet hole, and learns she has had 3 near escapes from death in as many days. She is incredulous initially, but he convinces her that her life is in danger, and finds himself unable to stay in retirement any longer.

Most of my experience with Agatha Christie is from TV show- Poirot and Miss Marple, and then a fun Dr Who episode. I quite enjoy the shows, so I thought I would give the books a go. I had read one or two a few years ago, but being used to books that tell you what you are meant to know when you are meant to know it, I just read straight through… which I think decreased my enjoyment. This time I approached with an inquiring, analytical mindset- questioning what it would mean for my theories if this person was lying, or if that one was, what they might be hiding etc. The books are a relatively quick reads though, so you don’t have to spend too much time guessing- the reveal comes soon enough.

All in all it was an enjoyable read, and I look forward to reading more. You might like this if you like gentle mystery and detective novels, but not the scary/creepy thrillers.

Black Stone Poetry

Black Stone Poetry-Grace Mera Molisa
Reading Around the World: Vanuatu
How obtained: it was very difficult to find any books from Vanuatu. I read a partial version of this on google books and an extensive article on Grace Molisa here.


Grace Molisa was not only one of Vanuatu’s most well known and loved poets, she was also a politician,  activist, environmentalist and feminist. I feel like there is not much more  can say that isn’t said better in the second link I put above, so I recommend you go check it out. Instead here is a short list of things I have learnt about Vanuatu:

  • It is composed of roughly 80 islands, 12 which are ‘main islands’. I always thought of it as one island! oops
  • there are ~110 languages- so sometimes more than one per island!
  • it was jointly colonised by the French and English- really the only time they managed to work together and share a colony.
  • the locals called this time of joint colonisation the ‘Joint Pandemonium’
  • you can walk up to the edge of Mt Yasur, and active volcano. you can also post a letter or postcard from there- the only postbox on top of a volcano in the world