Monday, June 22, 2015

island of the day before

I have a love-hate relationship with Umberto Eco.

I just finished his The Island of the Day Before and I still can't tell if he is insane or a genius. I keep reading his stuff, and then I keep telling myself "Never again!" and then I find something that seems so intriguing and I'm sucked in again. He reminds me of Italo Calvino, only not as much fun. But his thinking seems to float out there in the ether like Calvino's but I'm not sure if he really wants to write novels; I don't think he does. I think he has a huge, over-arching super-theory and he chips away at it in the various forms of art and expression he works in, from non-fiction, to fiction, to museum shows.

The Island follows the unfortunate (fortunate?) travails of Roberto della Griva, from his sudden lurch into manhood in war to his education in the salons of Paris to his travels to the South Seas. As we follow Roberto through the arc of his life, we are educated along with him about the science and beliefs of the day, from how to speak to women to how the determine that the world is indeed round. Although, whether or not it orbits the Sun or vice versa is still, as they say, up in the air.

Eco throws everything he can think of at our poor unsuspecting Roberto, and Roberto is not sure what to do with it all, and we're never quite sure if he ever will. Eco has composed a tale that is supposedly taken from the not-so-recently discovered notes of Roberto, and then tried to reconstruct his tale, as if from history. This give the author ample opportunity to speak directly to the reader in his role as narrator, where he often will use said opportunity to express he opinion as well. And because this is fiction, is there really any line between the two? It reminded me of the structure of The Princess Bride.

As in, "What the hell am I reading?"

And I'll probably do it again. Damn you Umberto Eco.

Sunday, June 7, 2015


I'm pretty sure I picked up this copy of Ovid's Metamorphoses when I was in Italy. I'm not sure about that but it has a funny price sticker on it and I have spent a fair number of my vacations in and around Ovid's hometown, Sulmona, in the Aquila region, in the eastern Alpines mountains west of Rome.

Publius Ovidius Naso, as he was known in Latin, or Ovidio to the Italians, was born in March, 43 BCE and died in exile in the year 17 or 18, so he was writing at around the same time as Virgil and Horace.

Metamorphoses is a series of related stories of the gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines, naiads and monsters, who all go through a dramatic physical change or alteration. The theme is a popular one in the Greek and Roman myths, but I had no idea there were so many examples; which begs the question, how many of these stories did Ovid make up himself? there are something like 250 separate stories in this epic poem, and each one includes a metamorphosis! So Ovid's a busy guy. And he was pretty sure that this poem was going to make him famous. He even states near the end that people will be saying his name in thousands of years. point; Ovid

Its pretty well known that authors from this era 'borrowed' from one another and from whereever else they liked. Many of the tales Ovid tells in his Metamorphoses are indeed told by Virgil. But what he is known for is his sense of humor, but after reading this translation by A.D. Melville, I've concluded that either the jokes must be pretty subtle, Ovid must just be humorous compared to his contemporaries (which I haven't read), or Melville didn't do a great job translating the humor. imagine, a classics scholar without a good sense of humor. weird

There is a 20-odd page introduction by E.J. Kenney, and 8 pages of translator's notes in the front matter, along with the table of contents and a Historical Sketch of Ovid. Kenney also prepared the notes to the text. These are highlighted in the text of the poem with asterisks. Find as asterisk go to the 100 pages of notes at the back and hunt for your note by book and line number! There are 15 books, and the lines aren't numbered, just a note at the top of each page noting what numbers it contains. I'm sure if you're a scholar, having a system that doesn't intrude on the flow of the poem is nice, but if you need to read the notes, they're a little hard to manage. Talk about stopping up the flow. The only way to read like this is to read a whole story, and then go read the applicable notes and try to recall where they were. I think footnotes would be fine.

After a quick look around, I think I may look up David R. Slavitt's The Metamorphoses of Ovid which is touted as freely translated by this American poet. According to Eric McMillan, Slavitt's version is supposed to be "Thoroughly enjoyable." saying that "Slavitt manages to capture the sweep of the stories while getting in all the little jokes and aides." Looks like I should have done a little research first. McMillan calls Melville's translation "quite dull." doh!