Sunday, August 28, 2011

A New Asterix and Obelix Book?

Rene Goscinny died in 1977 so a new book is not very likely but I forgot this fact when I was at a local bookstore looking for the latest Amulet for my kids. I saw Asterix and Obelix's Birthday, flipped through it and ran off to buy it without really examining the contents. It is understandable. I am a huge fan. I have sometimes referred to their books in class, prompting professors' to fix their best "Are you kidding me!!??" stares on me but then I also brought up the Bugs Bunny version of Wagner's 'The Ring' in my class on The Niebelungenlied. And I also made reference to the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers in an essay on language. Guess I never learn.
Back to the Asterix and Obelix book, it wasn't worth buying. It was more or less a tribute book for the 50th anniversary of the indomitable Gauls. It really should not be so difficult to create additional books. There is a certain formulaic quality to the stories. With a little knowledge of history and a moderate ability with Latin, one should be able to put together some plausible adventures. It need not have ended with Goscinny's death but, considering what later writers have done with Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian, perhaps I should keep my mouth shut.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Black Death is Still Among Us

I was watching 'The Nature of Things' last night on the CBC. The show was about the re-introduction of black footed ferrets on the Canadian prairies after 70 years of being extinct. A vigorous strychnine dumping campaign to wipe out prairie dogs killed off this cute little ferret. You can see the video on the CBC site here. What made me sit up and go 'howdy!' was the discovery, a year after the ferrets had been re-introduced into the wild in Saskatchewan, that a nearby prairie dog colony had been wiped out by bubonic plague. That's right, the Black Death is alive and stalking rodents in the Canadian west.
In case you think I am making this up, here is an article from the Toronto Star on prairie dog deaths last year. I knew there were occasional cases in other parts of the world but it is very treatable with antibiotics. It is until an antibiotic resistant variety comes along.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

George Chapman

Hardly anyone knows who George Chapman was. He wrote the first English translation of The Iliad. He was an ordinary guy, born about 1559 near Hitchin. There is very little known for certain about him - i.e. his education, military service. Somewhere in his thirties, he decided to make a living as a writer. He went to debtor's prison in 1599 and fled London in 1614 to avoid a second term.
His first translation of Homer's work came in 1598, Seven Books of the Iliads of Homer, and was dedicated to Robert Devereux, a favorite of Queen Elizabeth, in hopes of finding a wealthy patron. He finally found a patron in James I's son and heir, Prince Henry. Henry died in 1612 at the age of eighteen and Chapman persevered, although poor, in his translation of Homer. He published The Whole Works of Homer in 1616, having translated The Odyssey along with The Iliad. It took him almost thirty years to accomplish this feat, armed with a Greek to Latin dictionary and a Latin version of Homer alongside a Greek text. It is not certain how much education he had in Greek but, if he was untrained, his determination and accomplishment is inspirational.
Greek philosophers in the Middle Ages were not 'lost' because the texts were all lost but because people lacked the ability to read them and few translations were available. Boethius was one of the last few in the West who could read Greek. Heloise was distinguished by her ability to read Greek. Not only could she read Latin and Greek but she also knew some Hebrew. That she could read Latin was astonishing enough for a woman of her time but to know Greek and Hebrew as well made her singular even for a man. Abelard knew only a little Greek and no Hebrew.
What little was known of Plato during most of the Middle Ages was the translation of Timaeus by Calcidius. It might be worth looking at this text. Before there was 'The Force' (Star Wars), there was Plato's view of a 'World Soul'. The Timaeus lay at the heart of Boethius' ninth meter in his third book, the very center of Consolatio Philosophiae.
I sometimes think about Chapman laboring, struggling with a difficult language to write a book that no one had asked him to write and few would know or care that he wrote. It was not a literal translation, few at that time did literal translations. He was accused of merely translating the Latin text and those critics he called 'envious wind fuckers'. He died in poverty in 1634. You can still buy his version of The Iliad.
I have a 2003 edition published by Wordsworth Classics which includes an introduction on Chapman by Dr. Adam Roberts.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lady Philosophy on Children

Summers are so short in Canada. I could be inside reading Boethius all summer long but once in a while, I like to feel the sun on my face even if turns my face red. Actually, I have been lolling about.
While Boethius is having his conversation with Lady Philosophy about what is good and results in a happiness that no one can take away from one, they turn to a discussion on children and wives in book III, chapter VII.
"Honestissima quidem coniugis foret liberorumque iucunditas, sed nimis e natura dictum est nescio quem filios invenisse tortores: quorum quam sit mordax quaecumque condicio, neque alias expertum te neque anxium necesse est admonere. In quo Euripidis mei sententiam probo, qui carentem liberis infortunio dixit esse felicem."
"In fact, the highest good should be the pleasure of a wife and children, but it is too often said of their natural temperament that someone, I know not who, invented children to be our tormentors. How bitter is the condition of any of those(parents). It is necessary to remind you who has previously neither experienced this or been anxious on that account. On which subject, I commend the opinion of Euripides, my pupil, that he who is lacking in children may be said to be fortunate in his misfortune."
One would think, since the Bible says to be fruitful and multiply and seeing how Jesus loves little children in the Apostles, that having children should be a blessing to be sought after by any good Christian. How interesting that Boethius quotes a Greek pagan philosopher and declares children to be a torment inflicted on parents. (or lays this at Lady Philosophy's feet) Even more interesting that this book was so influential to medieval thought. I know what he means; I have children too, but no one ever said it would be easy. Oprah (who knows nothing about raising children) calls it the hardest job in the world. In the words of Joe South, whose immortal words have been sung by many: "I beg your pardon. I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there has got to be a little rain sometime." Kids do not ask to be born. Once you have children, I do not think you are ever free from worrying about them even when they are good.
I am amazed at how differently various translators treat this and other passages. I have already said I do not like the Loeb translation and am going with my own but I have been comparing my understanding of the text with other translators and there is little agreement among them.
The quote from Euripides is from Andromache, line 420.