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reading together - Mt Climbing Metaphor

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reading together - Mt Climbing Metaphor

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Wed Feb 20, 2013 7:24 pm

A friend of mine from college has been climbing MTs for 50 years. He leads a party up Mt. Rainier every year. I have always had trouble keeping up with him, particularly on descents. When you put together a summit trip you gotta evaluate your party strength based on the slowest member. The strong need to not climb at their accustom pace or the whole project falls apart. It is not uncommon for the party leader to end up carrying the pack for someone else to get to summit.

Unlike reading projects, on summit trips you don't just shed the team members along the way, unless it is a large group and you have whole ropes with guides who turn back. Breaking up a small party isn't acceptable and in some cases it is lethal.

I am slowing down on Agamemnon, thinking about the time it will take to do anther 600 lines and wondering if there is any reason to finish it. The first 1000 lines were OK but I now want to learn something, not just get through it. I am not obsessed with finishing a text. I have read 500-1000 lines of several other Attic Tragedies. No one hands you a gold medallion mounted on a plaque when you finish. I was listening to NPR last night in the car, some guy was complaining that after all that work in graduate school he found out that nobody cares that you are an expert on Shakespeare. I had to laugh at that. Knew a fellow 30 odd years ago that just about lost his mind when he discovered that nobody wanted a NT greek reader in the churches he was attending. He eventually converted to Catholicism. Long story.
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Re: reading together - Mt Climbing Metaphor

Postby Paul Derouda » Thu Feb 21, 2013 6:35 pm

I understand your point. First, there's the law of diminishing returns: you can read the text in English (and I understand you already have) and compare translations; we have now read more than the half in the original Greek and I think we can say we a fairly good idea of what sort of a text we're dealing with, what sort of problem translations will have, etc - what need to read more? For me, the biggest surprise was the sheer difficulty of it. Not so much the difficult language, but the text-critical problems: before you could even start to try to understand what the text was saying, you had to decide what the text was. I was thinking that after a couple of hundred lines it will get a lot easier, but that was really wishful thinking. Actually, Fraenkel says after few hundred lines the text-critical difficulties get a lot worse because part of the manuscripts are lost (don't remember the exact line he was talking about).

Anyway, I'm going to read it to the end. Thank you and the others for your help - without you I guess I'd never have reached line 1000. To take another mountain climbing metaphor, you are my Sherpas, carrying all the heavy stuff until I put on my oxygen mask and continue to the summit alone. ;)
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Re: reading together - Mt Climbing Metaphor

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Thu Feb 21, 2013 7:02 pm

The Agamemnon project has been the occasion for mentioning different styles of reading. When D. Page was working on his revision and expansion of Denniston's notes on Agamemnon he met weekly for two years with other scholars to work through the text along with Frankel's commentary. I suspect that all the participants had studied Agamemnon for years and years and so they didn't need to lay the basic ground work. Their discussions were probably focused on text critical and lexical problems, with an occasional syntax. This is all speculation of course.

Working on a difficult text for the first time, reading the Loeb edition and using the translation as a crib is a method I have attempted on numerous occasions with Sophocles, Euripides, Thucydides. Eventually, if I decide to go ahead with the project, I always get around to doing notes, something like a page of notes for every four to five lines. So with Agamemnon I picked up my notes for the first 122 lines which were very old notes, over a decade and reviewed the first 122 lines, adding more notes to the existing pages and then proceeded to transcribe the text with notes from that point on. I am now at about line 1050. This is sounds exceedingly tedious.

Back to mountain climbing metaphor. On a summit trip of Mt. Rainier or any similar peak, pace is everything. The seasoned climber starts out slow and keeps moving at a steady plodding pace. They first time up people almost always start moving fast and burn out. I have seen this on very small peaks like Mt. Si, made famous decades ago by the "Twin Peaks" TV drama. Even on a under-two-hour-assent the same principle applies, you start easy and work up your pace. On Mt. Si I have on many occasions passed the fast guys about an 45min into the trip.

That isn't intended to imply that the method I use for Sophocles or Aeschylus is always the best approach. Different peaks have different climbing speeds. The difficulty of the route and conditions can vary dramatically. You adjust your pace to the length of the trip and the conditions (visibility, weather, snow, ice, rock, heat, wind). To illustrate, I spent an hour this morning looking at the first page of Butcher's critical text and translation of Aristotle's Poetics. I didn't take any notes or transcribe any text. I was able with just a few minutes of double checking in Perseus & Diogenes to make out most of what was going on. It didn't seem worth the trouble to write anything down.

In a similar manner, you don't rope up to climb Mt Si. There are no crevasses, ice fall, or technical rock. It's a steep walk, with a 200ft class 3 scramble at the top. Some people carry a rope and rappel off the front side of the summit "Haystack" but this isn't standard procedure. On Mt. Rainer, the guide routes are just steep walks, not as steep as Mt Si for most of the trip. But you rope up on the glaciers and wear crampons. On north ridges: Ptarmigan, Liberty and Curtis there are a whole different set of rules. Liberty Ridge is the Sophocles Electra of Mt. Rainier. Ptarmigan is Agamemnon and Curtis is Pindar. I have lived in the Pacific NW for over half a century and only met one guy who has done Curtis Ridge.

The first page of Aristotle's Poetics was not really Mt Si. It is more difficult than that, perhaps comparable to the pre-eruption Mt St Helens. The first time I did St Helens we had a short stretch of 100mph local wind between the false summit and the top. You had to almost crawl for 100m. You were required to rope up above the "Dog's Head" but you rarely saw a crevasse. You use a rope and crampons but they were just in case the worst happens. On Rainier, you have crevasses to cross, always and every time. So with Aristotle, sometimes you might need to make notes but not every line.

Obviously, another factor is the skill and experience of the reader. Some folks might be satisfied with the results they attain with the Loeb diglot approach to Attic Tragedy. In like manner some people solo climb up glaciers. I have done it on the lower half of Ptarmigan ridge (up to 10,500 feet). My friend who does Mt Rainier every year (48 years so far) almost lost a guy on the Inter Glaicer below Schurman. People do this all time unroped but there are crevasses there and they can kill you. Reading a difficult text with a diglot isn't going to kill you. For some people it might be the best method. I have tried it over and over again, to "save time" but for some reason I usually revert to taking notes. Easy texts like NT or LXX, I just read. I took the notes 20 years ago and never rarely at them again (a few exceptions, like Jude and 2nd Peter).

Anyway, this a long winded exploration of the Mt Climbing Metaphor.
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Re: reading together - Mt Climbing Metaphor

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Thu Feb 21, 2013 7:45 pm

Paul Derouda wrote: For me, the biggest surprise was the sheer difficulty of it. Not so much the difficult language, but the text-critical problems: before you could even start to try to understand what the text was saying, you had to decide what the text was. I was thinking that after a couple of hundred lines it will get a lot easier, but that was really wishful thinking. Actually, Fraenkel says after few hundred lines the text-critical difficulties get a lot worse because part of the manuscripts are lost (don't remember the exact line he was talking about).



Paul,

The text critical problems are something one can ignore if they want to. My problem is very definitely with the language. Not so much the lexical semantics but the bizarre syntax. The lexical issues aren't insurmountable. Most of the time you can see how Aeschylus has simply extend the semantic domain somewhat or fabricated a new compound word. A lot of these are relatively self evident. Not all however.

I don't even attempt to solve text critical problems. Just work out a close reading for one or two of the most popular reconstructions of the text.

Thank you and the others for your help - without you I guess I'd never have reached line 1000.


I haven't given up yet, just have a lot other very distracting stuff going on which make it hard to focus. When I work on something like Agamemnon I need to focus.
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Re: reading together - Mt Climbing Metaphor

Postby Adelheid » Thu Feb 21, 2013 9:39 pm

Interesting points here ... I decided just a few days ago to give up trying to read the whole of the Odyssey in Greek, partly because there's no-one to share that with. And indeed, no-one will hand you a gold medal at the finish line :D

But still. Although I will not go through it all the way, and will pursue less solitary goals, I can't let it go completely. I will read the whole in (my favourite) translation and then cherry-pick which parts to read in the original Greek. And I will enjoy that too, if not more.
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Re: reading together - Mt Climbing Metaphor

Postby Adelheid » Thu Feb 21, 2013 9:39 pm

-double post deleted-
Last edited by Adelheid on Thu Feb 21, 2013 9:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: reading together - Mt Climbing Metaphor

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Thu Feb 21, 2013 10:01 pm

Adelheid wrote:Interesting points here ... I decided just a few days ago to give up trying to read the whole of the Odyssey in Greek, partly because there's no-one to share that with. And indeed, no-one will hand you a gold medal at the finish line :D

But still. Although I will not go through it all the way, and will pursue less solitary goals, I can't let it go completely. I will read the whole in (my favourite) translation and then cherry-pick which parts to read in the original Greek. And I will enjoy that too, if not more.


When T. E. Lawrence was doing his translation of the Odyssey he was hating it by the time he finished. He was probably working with Middle Liddell (I have worn out my copy) there may have been something like Cunliffe back then. I used to get really upset about using Middle Liddell because it covered all the standard works taught in the British schools in the late 19 th century. Now days I don't have much trouble with it. Homer does get easier, unlike Aeschylus.
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Re: reading together - Mt Climbing Metaphor

Postby Paul Derouda » Thu Feb 21, 2013 10:10 pm

C. S. Bartholomew wrote:The text critical problems are something one can ignore if they want to. My problem is very definitely with the language. Not so much the lexical semantics but the bizarre syntax. The lexical issues aren't insurmountable. Most of the time you can see how Aeschylus has simply extend the semantic domain somewhat or fabricated a new compound word. A lot of these are relatively self evident. Not all however.

I don't even attempt to solve text critical problems. Just work out a close reading for one or two of the most popular reconstructions of the text.

Well, the syntax is also very difficult; only I expected that to a certain point. But how many times do the commentaries, i.e. top scholars, conclude that in any given instance, the syntax was incomprehensible? What I meant was that the corruption of the is part of the problem why the syntax is so difficult. Reading D-P or R-T just to understand the syntax of the text immerges you inevitably into textual criticism. It's not that I could or wanted to solve any textual problems, but ignoring them was impossible. This sort of thing happens of course also with Homer or the New Testament, but not all the time like with Aeschylus.
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Re: reading together - Mt Climbing Metaphor

Postby Adelheid » Thu Feb 21, 2013 10:13 pm

Yes, Homer is not the most complex Greek you will find. Still, the part I have trouble with is the solitary part: even with Homer, the reading groups I know are reading the Iliad, not the Odyssey. You end up reading stuff on your own. Part of the fun is sharing.
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Re: reading together - Mt Climbing Metaphor

Postby Paul Derouda » Thu Feb 21, 2013 10:44 pm

Homer absolutely gets easier. The vocabulary is large, but that's why you have dictionaries. I think the biggest problem of Homer is length, you need a lot of time.

It's not really necessary to understand the particulars of everything - like, say, how Odysseus' raft in book 5 was built (but the fascinating bit about Homer is that if you really do want to know, somebody will have written a whole book on the subject).

It's very true the reading Homer can be a lonely business. Personally I prefer the Odyssey to the Iliad, it's so much more variety. But for some reason, since antiquity the Iliad was always considered "the better poem".
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