Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Inform My Reading List! Episode III

[The Results of the Modern Novel Voting are here.]

This Week: Seriously Old Books

What, you ask, is a "Seriously Old Book"? Well I'll tell you. A seriously old book is defined as a book written before the 1605 publication of Don Quixote.

We will for present purposes exclude the Bible or parts thereof. (I've got a whole other blog going on the project of reading the Bible, you know.)

We will also exclude the works of Shakespeare as being not far enough off the beaten track, if you follow me. In fact, we're going to exclude all works written for the Elizabethan stage, in return for which I promise Jennifer that I will read something by Fletcher before spring returns.

You can vote for as many as you like. And yet, why do I suspect the voting will be a little more low-key this time?

Possible Options:

  • Beowulf (Heaney Translation)
  • The Iliad
  • The Odyssey
  • Dante, The Divine Comedy
  • Paradise Lost
  • the Aeneid
  • the Decameron
  • ye Cantebury Tales
  • Herotidus, Histories
  • Plato, Republic
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh
  • Sun-Tsu, the Art of War
  • Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
  • St. Augustine, Confessions
  • Montaigne, Essays
  • The Upanishads
  • The Bhagavad Gita
  • The Tale of Genji
  • The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
  • Lucius Apuleius, The Golden Ass
  • Ovid, Metamorpheses
  • Tacitus, Annals
  • The Book of the Dead
  • Journey to the West
All right! You know what to do! Hit that comment button and VOTE VOTE VOTE!!!


Epistemz Dialektix said...

I read the Odyssey in high school and I got stumped in the very first part because I couldnt figure out how all these gods were swirling around communicating with humans. Then I let go and, released from my handcuffs of logic, took a ride around the seas of myopic monsters, ridiculous riddles, and sultry sirens.

Anonymous said...

I have some pretty clear favorites from your list.

Paradise Lost (Milton makes the English language sound like a pipe organ, or a whole symphony orchestra, or choir)
Montaigne (it's a little like reading a blog. not too much all at once, and you have a companion for life)
Herotodus (a compiler of fascinating facts, fit into a huge story)
The Tale of Genji (it's big but worth it. crosses from fairy tale to Tolstoy-style epic to James-style novel to something inexpressibly sad and bleak in the last quarter. It's like reading 12 books in one)
Plato - I love Plato, and everybody seems to like the Republic, but it's not really my style. I'd say it might be better to read several shorter works instead: Protagoras, Meno, Gorgias, Apology, Euthyphro, Phaedo.
And to round it out: Gilgamesh is great, it reads a little bit like Genesis: The Director's Cut. Well not really, but it'll make an interesting contrast for you. Be advised: translations differ wildly, not only in their quality but also in the text they translate. Most use some kind of chimeric amalgalm of the Sumerian, Akkadian and Babylonian texts that never would have existed in reality, but I believe there are some that limit themselves to the Sumerian version. I found the Penguin translation to be sober and modest, a good clean-living lass.
Robert Graves's translation of Apuleius: a must read.

I might come back later with some off-list thoughts.

Rebel said...

I'm confused, I thought the Bagvada Gita was the epic of Gilgamesh? (forgive all my spelling errors in that sentance!) I agree with Patrick though, Gilgamesh/Gita will remind you strongly of Genesis, so I think you'll find it really interesting. The problem I had reading the Gita was that large portions of the story were lost and replaced with explanations like "this part of the stone tablet was broken off". LOL - that's what you get when an Archeologist picks the books for an Ancient Texts class!!!

Oh, and Beowolf rocks, it gets my vote.

The [Cherry] Ride said...

I'm going with Lucius Apuleius, "The Golden Ass" because it sounds vaguely pornographic.

Rebel said...

Ok - I was totally confused, and wrong. Gita & Gilgamesh are two totally different books. I read them both - but that ancient texts class was at 8am and I had a very hard time staying awake through the class. My friend and I would take turns elbowing each other to wake up. Ahhhh college - good times, good times.

I don't remember much from the Gita - so I vote for Gilgamesh!

Shanthala said...

Why I thought your hands...shelves full by now! Interestingly, I am reading Dante's Inferno since I happened to lay my hands on it just as somebody was getting ready to toss it out. I've only got as far as Cante III and I've found out that hell is very orderly and structured!

As for the Indian epics, the 2 main one's are Ramayana by Valmiki and Mahabharata by Vyasa. The Bhagawad Gita is part of the Mahabharata. They are of epic proportion and would be like taking on the bible and who's translation/version you read. I think tales from the Upanishads or Jataka tales which would be more Aesopian might make for some lighter reading.

Michael5000 said...

@Max: One vote for the Odyssey, I think. Sounds fun to ME, anyway.

@Patrick: Righteous. Thanks bro.

@rebel: I'm totally inspired by the impact that the Bhagavad Gita made on your life. This reading program is going to be enriching, for sure!

@[Cherry]: I'm pretty sure it is vaguely pornographic. That's what I'm hoping, anyway. I guess it's the only surviving "novel" from the Roman Empire.

@Shanthala: Thanks for the 411 on classical Indian lit. I adjusted to the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. Is that reasonable? Oh, and thanks for throwing the Divine Comedy into the ring; it was a dumb one to leave out.

Michael5000 said...

Which brings us to:

Two each for Gilgamesh and the Golden Ass

One apiece for the Odyssey, Milton, Montaigne, Herotodus, Genji, Plato, Beowulf, Dante, and the Upanishads.

Anonymous said...

The Bhagavad Gita!

I read the Odyssey in high school. I suppose you "should" read it, but frankly, I thought it was pretty damn boring. Rent O Brother Where Art Thou instead.

Rex Parker said...

As for English, Paradise Lost for damn sure (though it's 1667, hence later than your stated limit). You have to be patient - it's long, and you canNot read it like a novel. Too hard, and it's too damned pretty, so why would you want to.

Without a doubt, unquestionably, you should read Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, then Dante ... in that order. A million votes for all those books. Ovid's Metamorphoses is brilliant, but less crucial, so half a million votes for that.

I teach this stuff for (sort of) a living, so I have strong, conservative opinions. Conservative in educational, not political terms, in case that wasn't clear.


chuckdaddy2000 said...

Definitely Odyssey, and, assuming you haven't read it, The Iliad. I actually liked the Iliad much more. So my vote goes for both.

Oh, and if you are going to read all of those ancient Indian texts, how about the Kama Sutra?

Anonymous said...

I think you might want to read some ancient tragedy. I particularly like Euripides's Alcestis and Bacchae; and Sophocles's Ajax and Antigone. Maybe you've already covered that stuff. Tacitus's Annals is also great, a nice counterpoint to Herotodus.

Anonymous said...

If I was choosing off your list and choosing, say, six titles:

The Odyssey
Canterbury Tales
St. Augustine, Confessions
Montainge, Essays
The Inferno

If I was trying to add to your list:

The Koran
The Egyptian Book Of The Dead
The Iliad (instead of Odyssey)
Sophocles, Antigone
Plato, Dialogues
Ovid, Metamorphoses

On a side note, I've always felt St. Augustine represented whatever Christian sensibilty I might have when he prayed for chastity "O Lord, help me be pure, but not yet."

fingerstothebone said...

Once again, I can hardly comment on your existing list, having only read bits and pieces of The Art of War and the Rubaiyat. But you should have Journey to the West on your list. (Or maybe you've already read it?)

Michael5000 said...

@MDIC: Lessee, we'll count that as a tepid 1/2 vote for the Odyssey, so that I might better catch the subtleties of "O Brother." Oh, and Ulysses.

@Rex: Oops, I was trying to be careful about the dates. Oh well. And I can't give you 4,500,001 votes; it would skew the tallies.

@Rex or anyone: Any thoughts about especially great translations of some of these?

@Chuck: I've ha ha "read the Iliad," but I want to do a better job of it.

It should be easy to say something very clever about your Kama Sutra suggestion, but I'm drawing a blank. Anyone help me out here?

@Patrick: I've read a little fragment of Tacitus, and liked it. Enough said. I think I am going to skip the Greek plays for now, just to keep focused on, well, the other stuff. I should have mentioned that.

@Critical Bill: I also should have mentioned that the Koran is also off limits -- it may be the future of the Bible project. The others are keepers.

@Rex, Chuck, Bill: Thank you for voting for the Iliad even though I quite mistakenly left it off of the list. It's like you knew!

@fingers: Journey to the West is a great suggestion -- did you notice your suggestion in Episode II was a runaway success? Are you voting for Art of War and Rubaiyat, too?

So, here we are

The Odyssey is running away from the field at 4 1/2 votes, with The Iliad and the Divine Comedy/Inferno back at three. Still, it's early in the week. We haven't even heard from Jennifer or Meaghan yet. Anything could happen.

Mfc said...

Please excuse me if I run a bit rampant.

Herodotus, The Histories (quite possibly my favorite book ever - an excellent collection of anecdote and narrative and trivia about the ancient world from Sicily to (and I exaggerate) Samarkand)
The Odyssey (as essential to one's appreciation of western literature as the Bible; about trickiness and truth and relativity and morality and how to tell a story and what it means to tell a story and what it means to be a son and what it means to be a father or a husband or a wife and how to talk to ghosts)
The Decameron (if you're not going to read Shakespeare, this probably goes it one better, as all the raunchy bits are left in. Has a good story about nightingales, among others.)
Augustine's Confessions (remarkably humane - good bits on being dissatisfied and on time and on stolen fruit.)
Gilgamesh (is a good buddy story)
Montaigne's Essays (have gotten me through many a sleepless night.)
Genji (the half that I read of it I very much enjoyed: Murasaki sits right between Jane Austen and Emily Bronte)

Not on the list:
Njal's Saga (ice-skating: with axes! but then I do like me some sagas)
The Story of the Stone (Or the Dream of the Red Chamber) (it's a little bit outside your time limit but it acts like a seriously old book, all full of intrigue and sex and violence and people giving bizarre and elaborate gifts to each other and composing poems and wandering around in gardens and complaining about food and money and each other.)
The Iliad (is so so so so good. Bravery, mercy, hospitality, and trying to move up the corporate ladder.)
Tsurezuregusa of Kenko (my favorite bit of Japanese literature - little essays on etiquette and books and falling in the mud and watching the cherry blossoms and lovers who catch cold being ridiculous in the moonlight.)

I would not recommend
The Aeneid (but then I don't like political poems)
Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (which is all late Victorian silliness)

Rex Parker said...

Aeneid is no more a "political poem" than Iliad is, though Aeneid is blatant propaganda for the transcendent, divinely ordained greatness of the Roman Empire, so from that perspective I guess it can seem a bit obnoxiously political. Still, it's the foundational narrative for All Western Literature of the Christian era. That is no exaggeration.

Fagles is my Homer translator of choice. Others may feel differently.

I should have put AUGUSTINE between VIRGIL and DANTE on my list. So a million votes for AUGUSTINE's "Confessions" as well.


fingerstothebone said...

No, I'm not voting for either The Art of War of the Rubaiyat...just The Journey West.

Anonymous said...

i suggest the tao te ching:
early in one of his works, henry miller writes, "had i been intelligent enough to have read that most illustrious and most elliptical piece of ancient wisdom i would have been spared a great many woes that befell me and which i am now about to relate."

i think you would like tsurezuregusa.

i love bhagavad gita. it is scripture, however.

sorry i missed the modern novel voting. i'll skew the exit polls by adding my favorite: peter carey's true history of the kelly gang.

Jessica said...

Beowulf (Heaney Translation)
Canterbury Tales (Penguin's works, right?)
Thousand and One Nights

Fletcher, huh?

Anonymous said...

I would like to vote for and add these two to the list:

Agamemnon --By Aeschylus
Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone –By Sophocles

I didn’t like Beowulf.
I couldn’t stand the Canterbury Tales.

St. Augustine’s Confessions was really really heavy on the judgmental and “you must be Christian just like this.” It was good, but got a bit tiresome.

The Odyssey, Iliad, and Aenid were all good. The Odyssey being my favorite of the three.

SO, I vote for the ones I added (Agamemnon, the Sophocles trilogy) and the Odyssey.

So how many books are you reading at once now??


gl. said...

i'm really quite fond of the canterbury tales, which comes in various flavours of old, middle, and modern english. it was the first thing i read in high school which made me think dead authors had a wicked sense of humour (though i may have been the only one to think so).

if you're into plays, i think some of the greek plays are good (e.g.: aristophanes, oedipus/antigone.)

Michael5000 said...

@Meaghan: No, no, rampant is good.

@Rex: Sorry, man, I'm still keeping you down to one vote.

@fingers: Check.

@Austin: There was something I've been meaning to tell you about. Can't remember what, though. Anyway, sorry -- closed elections can only be revisited by order of the Supreme Court.

@Jessica, Vita, gl: Check, check, check. Thanks!


I'm away from home base for the next several days, so I can't do updates just yet. Keep those votes coming if you haven't voted yet, or if you need to adjust or amend. Cheers folks.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to cast votes for the Odyssey and Beowulf, quietly mourn my lack of a classical education, and avoid throwing votes at anything else I read all or part of and vaguely remember. I like the Robert Fitzgerald translation of the Odyssey, but it's been a long time since I did any comparison shopping on any of the other translations. It has kind of nice line drawings, though I realize stressing the picture book angle isn't going to enhance my literary cred.

Anonymous said...

I just have to weigh in in favor of ye olde Canterbury Tales. They seriously rock! The middle English will mess up your speech for months!

blythe said...

epic of gilgamesh, tale of genji. also, i second a write in of dream of the red chamber. (east asian studies major, yo!)

Anonymous said...

The Illiad and Odyssey should count as one and it would be illuminating in cool ways to read the Aeneid along with them as it is the other side of same story in parts. But none of those three should be read read at all they should be heard as was meant. That would make them fly and tickle the mind so much that you'd want to listen to even more.

Ovid would be devoured after and you might not want to skip his dirty stuff either.

Ian McKellen reads a version of the Iliad that rocks by the way.

The Canterbury Tales are pedantic and often gross in story, but they offer quite a bit of richness in language if you choose to read them in Middle English. (Listening and reading in that are equally numbing as they are rewarding.)

Got to agree with Patrick above about Plato. The Apology alone is a great read for argumentation and logic.

There are many on your that I have been chomping to read myself.

And so many naturally clump together as they have similar themes/motifs and some play off each other so well.

But really, a lot of them depend on the translation you choose and what you want to gain. Greek and Roman works, to me, enhance the likes of Shakespeare and most things that come after. But the world is smaller now so understanding foundations traditionally further away might be killer.

In order to vote on something for a person to read I would have to know what that person's bent is. I would hate to recommend something ucky. Hey, where is Lao-Tsu? He's much cooler than Sun.

Anonymous said...

I have to back up everyone who mentioned Antigone though.

Righteous and translations vary but there is not one need to get one that is written in anything beyond 4th grade English. Translators notoriously ruin that play.

My college text had a Flesch Kincaid of 7 and the one I used to teach to sophomores had a 13 of course killing all kids' interests.

I'll stop now, but this is my kind of category!