May 13, 2010

Homer (and an update)

When I began this lit project, I was not sure which direction I would take. I had planned to pursue philosophy and drama, my original literature loves, but a sidestep into Ovid took me down the path of Ancient poetry. It quickly became a minor obsession. Having now read many of the Ancients, two ideas have crystallized in my mind: the cultural meaning of poetry as established by the Ancients; and the influence of Homer on Western Civilization. To culminate my compulsion for Ancient poetry, I read Homer.

This post will be brief. Rather than talking about the Iliad or the Odyssey, I offer a quick note on my relationship with his work:

Homer is a point of reference I share with nearly every literate person in the West. This is true not only of people today, but also of the Ancients. The Homer I read and know is the Homer they read and knew. Time, place, language give us a different understanding and perspective, but Homer still mediates our connection. This connection is culture, and it is overwhelming to think we have preserved culture for over two and a half thousand years.


I had a lot to say about Homer but gutted it all from this post. I am up for having a conversation about him, though, if anyone cares to throw in their own thoughts.

[My Update: I will be taking a break from blogging and my lit project. Two weeks, I think. You can email me in the meanwhile, or if you happen to be interested in what movies I am watching, you can stop by pear hut (my hitherto hidden tumblr).]

May 04, 2010


For my lit project, I read the surviving poems of Callimachus.

One hears a lot about Callimachus when learning the Classics. Poet, librarian, critic, Callimachus represents the shift to the post-Heroic Hellenistic era. As a critic, he condemned epic poetry and praised what was brief, highly-crafted, and very literate. These lines from his Hymn to Apollo both express and exemplify this philosophy:
And Envy whispered in Apollo's ear:
"I am charmed by the poet who swells like the sea."
But Apollo put foot to Envy and said:
"The river Euphrates has a powerful current
but the water is muddy and filled with refuse.
The Cult of the Bees brings water to Deo
but their slender libations are unsullied and pure,
the trickling dew from a holy spring's height."
Pure drops from a holy spring (Callimachus's poetry) are preferable to a powerful yet muddy current (epic poetry). This aesthetic preference characterizes the Hellenistic age. Epics and Tragedies are out of fashion; in fashion are Menander, Theocritus, and Aratus. Incidentally ... Epigram 62:
Aratus of Soloi models his verse
On Hesiod's best, and refuses to write
The Ultimate Epic. We praise these terse,
Subtle tokens of long effort at night.
How fortunate I am to have crossed Aratus, this bizarre, little poet. I am beginning to understand his reputation among the Ancients.

The Hellenistic inclination to holy dew reappears with vigor among the Romans. Without Callimachus, no Catallus, Propertius, or Ovid (whose Fasti may be more influenced by Callimachus's lost Aetia than by Propertius). Callimachus's influence is difficult to escape. And yet, as Fortune has it, little of his work survives, and one is at a loss to discover why there is so much noise about him. 6 hymns, 64 epigrams, and some number of fragments survive. These I read. These only of hundreds of estimated books. Time has robbed us of his work.

What, O Zeus, are we to make of Callimachus?

May 01, 2010

April 10 favorites

This appears to have been a slow month. These were the movies I watched and liked:

The Trio's Engagements (1937)

What Did the Lady Forget? (1937)

Our Neighbor Miss Yae (1934)

This list gives the impression that all I watched this month were Japanese films from the 1930s (in which women wore stylishly tilted hats). This is not the case, though I certainly wish it were.