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Still reading Homer

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Still reading Homer

Postby Bart » Sat Apr 05, 2014 3:49 pm

Halfway book 3 of the Iliad, some random remarks and observations from the perspective of a beginning reader of Homer

-Homer is great
-reading Homer really does get easier. I can read the text now without commentary or dictionnary and understand 80% of what is going on. A second reading, this time with help, fills in the rest. I hardly ever use a translation. Vocabulary is the main difficulty. A dictionnary helps of course as does the Attikos-app for I-pad.
-don't skip the catalogue. It's easy Greek, and good for your geography of Mycenean Greek (always useful). It describes the first victim of the Trojan War, poor Protesilaus, killed while jumping a shore, leaving behind his wife and his half completed house (nice detail). To be read with a map alongside.
-Ameis is definitely better than Willcock. Ameis especially excells in his handling of particles and clusters of particles and the nuance of meaning they give to a sentence. Willcock is not bad, but offers far less information than Ameis. Also, it often just gives a translation of a difficult passage instead of unpacking the sentence.
-for Dutch speakers: Mehler's Homerisch Woordenboek is just as good as Cunliff.
-I don't remember who recomendend Jasper Griffin's Homer on Life and Death, but thanks. It's an insipiring and thought provoking book from a mainly literary perspective. Also nice as introduction is Martin Mueller's
The Iliad. I'm now reading The Trojans and their Neighbours by Trevor Bryce. I couldn't resist jumping into the secondary literature after all.
-Homer is great
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Re: Still reading Homer

Postby Qimmik » Sun Apr 06, 2014 3:20 pm

leaving behind his wife and his half completed house (nice detail).


These pathetic obituaries, which cast brief glances at the peacetime activities of dead warriors and their thwarted hopes and aspirations, are scattered throughout the Iliad. They add to the cumulative weight of the tragic narrative.

Glad to see you're persisting and it's getting easier. What did I tell you?

The Trevor Bryce book is an excellent summary of the current state of our knowledge of the historical basis (or lack thereof) for the Trojan War--a very balanced account, skeptical but not too much--and very authoritative on Asia Minor in the late Bronze Age (he's a leading specialist in Hittite history).
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Re: Still reading Homer

Postby Markos » Mon Apr 07, 2014 11:07 am

Bart wrote:Halfway book 3 of the Iliad, some random remarks and observations from the perspective of a beginning reader of Homer

-Homer is great...Homer is great

My only problem with your observation here is that you only said it twice. :D
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Re: Still reading Homer

Postby Bart » Mon Apr 07, 2014 11:35 am

Yes, you're absolutely right. It's downright sacrilege! To make up for it, I'll sprinkle some barley, kill a goat, flay it, cut out the thighs, cover them with a double layyer of fat, lay raw flesh upon and grill it over a fire with a five-pronged fork, while pouring wine and singing paeans to the gods. Sorry, Homer...

But isn't he great? I mean, tastes vary of course, but book I is the most powerful literature I've ever read. And he just keeps going. In book III for example the tower scene with Helen pointing out the Greek heroes to Priamos is touching and higly effective. Touching because of the kindness of old Priamos, effective in hinting at the character of Helen and showing indirectectly her supernatural beauty by the effect she has on the old men of Troy. I just hope it will stay this good.
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Re: Still reading Homer

Postby Paul Derouda » Mon Apr 07, 2014 6:53 pm

He is great.

I think book I of the Iliad is probably, as a composition, as a single whole, the best one. I think there are many scenes that are better than the ones in book I, but they don't make such wonderful compositions. And they are many, you will not be disappointed. Then you have the Odyssey; all respectable people say the Iliad is better, but I don't agree. They are too different to compare.

For my part I must say I'm really fed up with most modern action films. Peter Jackson with his Hobbit and the rest is the worst of them. Ok, maybe it's because I'm past thirty, but still... It's incredible how boring a zillion explosions and special effects per minute can be, if no effort is made to tell a good story. Homer had nothing but words, but how good he is a building suspense! Every killing in the Iliad is a piece of art, and that's because he always prepares the scene so well. What a film writer Homer would have been; he would have known when to pause the action and when to resume it again.
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Re: Still reading Homer

Postby huilen » Tue Apr 08, 2014 8:25 pm

Hello everybody,

I am glad to have met people so devoted to Homer. I have to confess that I am a little ashamed, for my last posts may look somewhat contrasting with that devotion. I just want to say, in my painful English, that I think too that Homer is great, really, and I hope you do not consider a sacrilege my cold and insubstantial grammatical questions. All what I want is to read Homer without thinking in anything of that, just to listen what the muse sings, and not stopping her every second with some impertinent question of whatever this is an adverb, or something like that. Unfortunately, my mind has not any more the flexibility of a child's mind, who can learn in the natural, naivy way; far from that, I have to go through the hard way, I have first to struggle with the large army of preconceptions that I have. The problem is that I can't just remove them, they are just too rooted in my mind, but I hope at least to accomplish some peace accord between them and the strange thing that is Homeric Greek to them. If ever I accomplish that, all what I want is to throw the grammar through my window and just to read Homer as you can do it now.
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Re: Still reading Homer

Postby Qimmik » Tue Apr 08, 2014 8:53 pm

I have first to struggle with the large army of preconceptions that I have. The problem is that I can't just remove them, they are just too rooted in my mind, but I hope at least to accomplish some peace accord between them and the strange thing that is Homeric Greek to them. If ever I accomplish that, all what I want is to throw the grammar through my window and just to read Homer as you can do it now.


Eventually you'll get to the point where you can do that. it's a very attainable goal with the Homeric poems, even if you will need to look up a word in a dictionary from time to time (and sometimes when you do look up a word or when you come to a passage that baffles you, you'll have the satisfaction of learning that no one else knows what it means, either).

At first, you need to master the basic vocabulary and think about the grammar until you internalize it. But, as Bart noted, it gets easier over time.
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Re: Still reading Homer

Postby Paul Derouda » Tue Apr 08, 2014 9:15 pm

Often an innocent grammatical question opens completely new points of view. Grammatical questions are necessary. Compared to those, what good is a conversation where everybody just agrees that "Homer is great"? ;)
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Re: Still reading Homer

Postby Paul Derouda » Tue Apr 08, 2014 9:19 pm

Although it's nice to just to read Homer without a grammar or any other external help, one of the great attractions of Homer is the wealth of secondary literature. You could spend several lifetimes just reading Homeric studies. Whatever interests you, someone has probably written about it.
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Re: Still reading Homer

Postby Qimmik » Tue Apr 08, 2014 9:24 pm

To Paul's point, it's a bottomless well. It can open a window into the Mycenaean and even pre-Mycenaean past. And sometimes it's precisely the grammatical questions that open the window.
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Re: Still reading Homer

Postby Qimmik » Tue Apr 08, 2014 10:58 pm

What never ceases to amaze me is how "Homer" is able to work within the medium of a traditional, formulaic, stereotyped and artificial language to create such vivid and realistic scenes and true-to-life characters--for example, the intimacy of the meeting of Hector and Andromache or the scene where Patroclus joins Nestor and Machaon and gets the disastrous idea of putting on Achilles' armor, or meeting of Achilles and Priam, or the scene in the Odyssey at the palace of Menelaus. Much of the Odyssey reads like a realistic novel.
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Re: Still reading Homer

Postby Bart » Wed Apr 09, 2014 6:24 am

huilen wrote:All what I want is to read Homer without thinking in anything of that, just to listen what the muse sings, and not stopping her every second with some impertinent question of whatever this is an adverb, or something like that.


I have the same problem of course. While struggling with grammar and vocabulary it's hard to notice the beauty of what is said. I find it helps to review the text often. I always go through a passage at least three times: first time without help and then a second time very thoroughly with commentary and dictionnary. The day afterwards I begin my reading with a review of my notes and the text I read the day before. And often it is only then that things come together and I can read the Greek as Greek, feel the rythm, notice little details, and think about the story.

Discussions about greatness in art are of course difficult and tend to end in just pointing to certain parts and saying that you like or dislike this or that. Argumentation is of little value in esthetic judgement. And since this a forum devoted to Homer, I guess we all agree on his greatness anyway. Back to grammar questions!
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