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So I'm taking this class called Gore and Glory: Early Heroic Literature. And, well, I shouldn't really be taking it, because we're reading the Iliad on such a shallow level, and I'm pretty sure most of the people in the class are just there to get their literature and the arts credit. But good things are born from the mediocre, I suppose: something sparked me thinking about what would have happened if Achilles had actually killed Agamemnon in Book I. And so I've decided to write it. (with some help from A.T. Murray's translation) Book I is basically summary, though.

So heres Book I )
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I'm going to justify this by saying that I need something to read while I'm on the bike, but really that's a lie. Anyway, I read "The Sword of Attila," whose tagline is "He feared no man, no god, and no nation - and now Rome itself would know his wrath." And it's pretty much as melodramatic as that makes it seem. Nonetheless, by the end I was really non-ironically into it.

There were problems, yes: I wish he had better female characters. Honoria is a hilariously terrible person in history - she proposes to Attila because her brother imprisoned her!* And so you could and probably should do a lot more with her than having her be defined by sleeping with/wanting to sleep with people. Aetius' wife, while not important to the story historically, could be fleshed out in a novel, and, well, I forget her name. I think it's Priscilla. Also there's a developmentally delayed man who can barely manage one word at a time, and of course he sacrifices himself heroically for our hero.

But Our Hero is pretty damn heroic (it really should have been called "The Story of Aetius' Awesome or something. I am not good at names, but the point is it's less about Attila and more about Aetius.). And likable, or maybe that's just because he's my type, to a tee. I mean, he's 1. fiercely loyal to a doomed cause 2. he's a great man who is surrounded and subordinate to lesser men 3. he's lean and dark-haired. And he goes and learns Hunnic fighting! and one of the Huns has a life-debt to him! In short, Aetius is awesome and makes the book. Attila, tbh, is kind of boring, although there is a pretty awesome scene at the end in which he begs Aetius to kill him after being defeated at Châlons.

Even the prose wasn't too bad. Not great, and with a certain tendency to purple when it was aiming for lyrical, but not awful, the way too many historical novels are.

So as a whole, I'd recommend it, if you're looking for a quick read and like awesome Roman generals.
*NB: Facts may well be drawn from the Huns Age of Empires II campaign.**
**fun story about that campaign: there's one scenario where you get gold for destroying minor settlements. I always ran out and ended up having to attack Byzantium.*** So Byzantium totally got destroyed by the Huns in my alternate history.
***Attacking Byzantium is a pain. I can see why it didn't fall till 1453.
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So I read Ben Hur. It was exactly as ridiculous as it should be. (Also, now that I think of it, I read an abridged version at camp a long time ago.) Wallace is actually a good writer, although he follows the 19th century convention of having historical novel characters use thee and thou all over the place. The race scene is particularly thrilling (and Messala doesn't die, he just gets crippled for life), especially as a former racer myself, though not of chariots.

Speaking of Messala, although Wallace's project was clearly not to create a masterpiece of characterization, would it have hurt to make the guy a little less insufferable? I don't mind villains, if they carry it off well, but there's a way to do smug and self-satisfied that makes me like them, and all I wanted to do with Messala was smear a pie in his face.

The Jesus-business was very interesting - not the conversion, which felt shoehorned in*, but the discussion of His execution. Surprisingly enough for the author a proselytizing work, Wallace goes into the political reasons - that the Romans had interfered with the governance of the Jews and even the appointment of the high priest; that the nobles and the common people were at variance; and that because of these things the province was a powder-keg.

*The plot: Messala is a jerkface, gets Ben-Hur sent to the galleys and his mother and sister imprisoned. Ben-Hur comes back, gets revenge. Awesome chariot race! Ben-Hur is very very rich! Messala gets a pretty lady to betray Ben-Hur! Oh also he follows Jesus and helps build the catacombs in Rome. But mainly revenge!

**Note on my music: Lascia ch'io pianga is kind of awful for male voice, sry2say
polutrope: (in ur troy!)
I saw The Bacchae in the park the other day. It was - well, not great, but it could have been a lot worse. Insert spiel on how I hate modern dress productions here. But the real point is a question on the translator's use of "censor." The line was, I believe, "Do you ask me to censor my speech?" Now, anyone with the slightest bit of classical training knows that a censor is a Roman official whose job is to see if the senators are getting up to anything fishy with Vestal Virgins or not having enough kids and so forth.

So, should a translator of a Greek play of the 5th century BC¹ avoid using words with such blatantly anachronistic origin? I think it's different from using words from German or French or even Latin, since e.g. "god" is just the modern word for theos. But "censor" can be avoided, and it's a specifically Roman office.

¹Ha ha, guys, Rome was founded in 754 BC. Right²
²And even if it was, the likelihood of Euripides paying attention to the local offices of a bunch of barbarians = 0.
polutrope: (work habits)
Gregory Nagy: "We are reminded [by Pindar's version of the Pelops myth, in which Tantalos takes ambrosia and cannot digest it] of the witch who lived in the candy house in the story of Hansel and Gretel: having access to the ultimate food, she lusts to eat the flesh of plump children."

1. Candy is "the ultimate food"? Maybe if you're twelve.
2. I could have written this. If it were 4AM the day before the paper was due and I were being really lazy with the editing or really needed those 34 words.
3. This is the sort of thing you can get away with when you're an authority in your field?

Ugh I am posting way too much but I am halfway done with my Helenpaper and I did my Latin recitation so like whatever.

Roman food

Nov. 29th, 2008 01:06 am
polutrope: (in ur troy!)
Tonight I made rabbit with an ancient Roman recipe from the works of Apicius. While the recipe seems to call for a lot of things with conflicting tastes, they all work out in the end (and in fact, some of them seem to disappear).

There was also honeyed wine; I like it very much, but my parents are not so enthusiastic. It involves a pound of honey and three and a half quarts of wine, and the quantity of wine overwhelms the honey, so it's not too sweet. It also has lots of spices in it - saffron, bay leaf, cinnamon, cumin, and two dates. I think that they would have been more tastable if we had been able to find fresh dates and not dried ones.

In any case, although it was a lot of work - lots of chopping and standing over things and stirring them.

also the rabbit had a tiny cute heart that tasted great.


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