by M L West; Book
Good for academic purposes   (2013-01-21)
Poetry, as Robert Frost said, is what gets lost in translation. Of no poetry is this truer than ancient Greek poetry, and Greek lyric poetry is especially difficult to bring across. But most people nowadays who read ancient Greek poetry in translation do so in connection with college classes in such fields as Classics in Translation, Western Culture, or Women's or Gay studies. This book is clearly aimed at this student market. As such, it's about as good as such as book can be. Put together by a distinguished classicist, it features a clear, jargon-free introduction concisely giving an overview of the nature of Greek lyric in its social and historical context, serviceable verse translations in contemporary diction, sticking closely to a literal reading of the originals, and brief notes explaining some of the more obscure allusions. Included are translations of virtually all extant ancient Greek lyric, including many fragments (fragmentary because they are either quotations from lyrics by later Greek authors or verses found on scraps of papyrus.) The main fault of the book is the frankly ugly typographic layout, which ill serves the poetry and is surprisingly and disappointingly amateurish-looking for a press as respectable as Oxford. All in all, I'd recommend this book strongly for college classroom use or for the general reader who wants to gain some exposure to this sort of poetry. What the book won't give you is any feeling for what it's like to actually experience Greek lyric, or any explanation of how delightful that experience is: there's no other way to get that than to learn Greek. If you want more creative poetic translations which might give you glimpses of various facets of Greek lyric poetry's genius, though always at the expense of straying rather far from the literal meaning of the text, you could try supplementing this book with something like The Oxford Book of Classical Verse in Translation (Oxford Books of Verse), which includes a number of English versions of Greek lyric, often by great poets. (Reviewed by Jon Corelis)
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