Posted by Dennis » Add Comment »
Mary Beard has a good, readable review of a number of books which rework classical myth. One of them, Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad (which she actually enjoyed), led her to lash out at a weak ‘feminist’ reading, and then at Robert Graves, whom she blames:
The only blot on this brilliant book is a chapter entitled “An Anthropology Lecture”. This insists, through the mouth of the murdered maids, that deep beneath the story of Penelope lies the cult of the Mother Goddess, and that anyone who does not accept the matriarchal substrate of Greek myth has not learned the lessons of feminism. This is complete rubbish (most feminists I know think that matriarchy is itself a myth invented by patriarchal culture). But I suspect that Robert Graves has a lot to answer for here.
Graves was one of the few people who believed Butler’s claims about the authoress of the Odyssey, and his bonkers White Goddess is a founding tract of New Age matriarchy. More influential, though, is his Greek Myths, which has been the standard reference work for half a century now (and is acknowledged by Atwood as a “crucial” source). The success of this book is a mystery; it is dry and dense, with almost as much footnote as text over its 800 pages. It is hard not to suspect that most buyers, attracted by the combination of famous author and authoritative title, do not get very far in actually reading it. But you need to skim only a few pages of the introduction to get the clear message that the Great Mother is the key to most of what will follow.
A former professor of mine once remarked that Graves’s The White Goddess was that greatest parody of scholarship he’d ever read.
Beard is right when she notes that there is no orthodox version of myth, which means you need to be careful when reading what anyone says about a given myth. Which sources are they using, combining, leaving out, and why?
It doesn’t help anything to manufacture narratives ‘informed’ by theory.
Posted by Sarah » 2 Comments »
Check out the top 1000 books owned by OCLC libraries in 2005. The complete list is very interesting to peruse. Like a sports fan, I search through the rankings for my favorites, noting that the Divine Comedy (#4), Odyssey (#5), Iliad (#6), and Hamlet (#9) made it in the top ten. Some other interesting rankings:*
Emily Brontë beat out her sister Charlotte with Wuthering Heights (#28) topping Jane Eyre (#30). The Aeneid was fairly low–#40. I was just saying to someone the other day that reading Vergil in translation is very different from the Homeric epics, which retain much of their vim and vigor. Lucretius (#48) managed to overcome Plato’s Republic (#55). Too bad Lucretius didn’t believe in the life of the soul after death, and as such can’t appreciate the win. Though it is interesting that Plato’s picture of an ideal society beat the US Constitution (#237) by so great a number. In the changing identities field, Ovid’s Metamorphoses (#56) scraped past Twelfth Night (#58). Machiavelli’s Prince topped Paradise Lost; it gets me thinking: maybe Milton’s protagonist could have learned from the Italian, overthrown God from the inside rather than try to take his kingdom by force outright. The lasagna-loving cat Garfield (#15) trounced the anecdotes of the Peanuts gang (#69), who in turn beat out another boy-and-his-pet duo, Calvin and Hobbes (#77) . For a reason I cannot understand, there are twenty-four more holdings of Richard the II (#106) than Richard III (#107), which is a personal favorite. Thucydides (#123) falls in behind Herodotus (#119) in the Greek historians field, and in the talking animals department, Orwell’s Animal Farm (#137) cuts ahead of Milne’s Winnie the Pooh (#142). Boccaccio’s Decameron (#143) was far ahead of his teacher Petrarch’s entry, Rime, coming in at #484.
Surprisingly, some Shakespeare plays did not to make the top 1000: Two Noble Kinsmen (though admittedly not in 1st Folio, is considered to be half written by W.S., half by John Fletcher. See its Wikipedia article.) Only Henry IV part I (#226) , without its second part, made it. What happens if you want to know how his story turns out? I guess you’d have to turn to Henry V, which comes in at #105. What of Henry VI? None of his three-part story makes the list, but Henry VIII does.
Oh, and number 1? The Bible, of course. It’s owned by nearly double the libraries as the number two holding, the US Census. There are nearly 12 times as many Bibles held as the number three entry, Mother Goose.
Check out the Banned Books list, too, as well as the other categorized lists, like the Drama list, which shows us where greats like Cyrano de Bergerac and Oedipus Rex (yes, the Latin title), line up against the works of Shakespeare and others. Dennis, you’ll like the Reference List, which includes greats like Elements of Style and Fowler’s Dictionary of English Usage. No OED or OLD, however, two of our favorite lexica (or lexicons, your choice).
After nearly an hour amusing myself by browsing these fun lists, I suppose it’s time to get back to work– labor vincet omnia.
*Definition from site: “This list, updated for 2005, contains the ‘Top 1000’ titles owned by OCLC member libraries–the intellectual works that have been judged to be worth owning by the ‘purchase vote’ of libraries around the globe.”
Posted by Eric » 1 Comment »
Can anyone recommend a good standard reference for poetic hymn- and prayer-form (classical/non-Christian)? I realize that individual writers make a lot of modifications to the forms; I’m just looking for something very basic that lays out the components.