Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It's not really a post. It's a post-it?

Dear Homer,
What's with all the ankles?

But someone saw him — Cadmus' daughter with lovely ankles,
Ino, a mortal woman once with human voice (5.366-67)

and later:
...the man himself delights
in the grand feasts of the deathless gods on high,
wed to Hebe, famed for her lithe, alluring ankles (11.691-93)

"Man, don't look at her face — but you should see those ankles."

I think Homer was an ankle man. He also seemed to pay attention to braids and rosy fingers.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Artist: Serena. Medium: Laptop on Internet. Title: It was Late and I was Tired

Some other bits and pieces from the MLA convention--I just don't have the time for a real post. My schedule's been sort of brutal.

--I've seen a whole lot of MLA folks sauntering casually back into the Hilton with brown paper bags under their arms. I'm not saying that there is necessarily a connection between that, the numerous liquor stores within a block of here, and the crazytown prices at the hotel bar... but the circumstantial evidence is strong.

--A lot of the people hitting up our booth are quite blatant about the fact that they're only there for the freebies. Which is fine; it comes with the territory. But the middle-aged professors who take five minutes just to mine our candy bowl are driving me nuts. They ate all the mini Snickers and the mini Hershey bars; now we only have Kisses and Reese's. I understand that times are tight... but really?

--Speaking of swag, I got some amazing stuff today, including all three volumes of this amazing anthology, a copy of Everything is Illuminated (which I still haven't read), and advance copies of a few other things, including one book that purports to be a biography of Shakespeare's brain. I also got some beautiful posters for various new books, including one for this edition of Beowulf. More than anything, though, I'm excited about the anthologies. We're going to get so much great Iditarod reading from them. Apparently there will be a lot more free books tomorrow. God only knows how I'll get all this stuff back to Washington.

--I did get hit on a lot more today. Last-minute desperation? Guys who struck out with their first choice, or are ready for a new victim? I don't know. The worst part, though, was that the two most persistent guys were both manning nearby booths, so there was basically no escape. Or maybe the worst part was the professor from the verrrrry respected college standing about four inches away from me while making no move to cover his quest to stare down my shirt. For ten minutes. While asking me rather personal questions about my life. I got invited to a number of bars and parties, as well as out to dinner, but I evaded all such suggestions and hit the hotel gym for two hours of cardio. After two solid days of candy and cookies, it was pretty much heaven.

--I met a ton of interesting people: grad students bitter and optimistic, friendly professors, cranky professors, Scott McLemee groupies (I swear the man has a fan club), folks from Ivies and community colleges... no David Horowitz, though, to my mild disappointment.

while we're off topic, jeeves

No, I don't have anything profound to say about the Odyssey. Not one thing. It's late and I'm tired.

This is how tired I am: I was trying to write you a limerick about the Odyssey and I can't do it. I am not happy about this. I can ALWAYS write limericks. I promise you more limericks down the road.

Really, here is what I think when I read the Odyssey: This guy was a terrible sailor, couldn't steer, wrecked his boat, and made up all this rigmarole when he got home in order to save face. And then he hanged the maids, cause he's a bastard. Thus endeth the profound observations for the night.

This is just a little missive to explain my part of the Literary Iditarod. After all, Serena is (probably) going to grad school, and this is (it turns out not particularly effective) preparation for the GRE. But hey, at least she has an evident reason. But I don't want to go to grad school, unless it's to get an MA in something strange. I see no reason for me to go back to school -- though I love school. I always figured grad school would be fun, but it would also be postponing my real life. If I figure out what I want to do with myself and it's something I need to go back to school for, then I can go and not feel like I'm running away from anything.*

You like lists? I like lists.
Reasons Fiona Is on the Literary Iditarod:
» It's to fill holes in my own knowledge. I've read a lot of these books, but often when I was very young and didn't get them and barely remember them. It doesn't count as something-I've-read if all I can tell you about it I could get from reading a synopsis on Wikipedia ("So there's a guy and he turns into a giant cockroach for no reason and then...his life is...really hard. After that. Cause, you know, the cockroach thing. Roachism.")
» I finally can talk to someone about them. I imagine that having Serena (and the internet) will make The Fairie Queene much more bearable than I otherwise would find it.
» Honestly, I've padded the list a tiny bit. Is The Diaries of Adam and Eve truly essential reading to call oneself an educated person? No, but it's the Twain that's always made me laugh a lot. Is Twenty Days with Julian and Little Bunny really that important, compared to The Scarlet Letter? Nah. But it makes Nathaniel Hawthorne into a human being, and I think that's important when it comes to a writer like that who's so staid and difficult to feel a kinship with. We tried to make a list that would be educational, yes, but it's not just a list that covers the basics and I'm really happy about that.

*This applies to me only and is not a condemnation of anyone applying to or in grad school. I think grad school is awesome and I like grad students. I will never accuse anyone in grad school of being womb-bound or lame. Learning things is sweet. Some of my best friends are grad students.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

"Are you a linguist?!"

I'm in the lobby of the San Francisco Hilton. Enormous chandeliers, extravagant Christmas decorations, and networking black-clad academics as far as the eye can see. I would feel tremendously out of place--even the grad students here know someone, and I don't know a soul--but I think I'm too tired to care. I need to go find some dinner, but the eavesdropping and people-watching here are too good to pass up. I think I'll wait till things calm down a little and then just buy an overpriced salad at the hotel restaurant. I'd trade my hair for a glass of red wine, but I won't trade the $13 the Hilton is charging, so I'll have to go without.

I didn't mean to hijack the Literary Iditarod with my blogging about the MLA Convention; it's just too weird and interesting not to write about. And it has to do with grad school, so it's totally relevant. Sort of.

I don't know where to begin. I was working at my company's booth in the exhibit hall all day. The atmosphere there was actually much less overwhelming than here in the lobby: I knew what I was supposed to be doing, I had a goal, I had things to talk about. I'm far from being the most socially capable person in the world, but I've heard my bosses' spiels enough times to know more or less what they'd like me to say, and there are a lot of people who are very enthusiastic about our company, so I felt pretty comfortable, if sometimes seriously outclassed. I wish I could attend some of the lectures and discussions, but that isn't my job; I'm here to do the other stuff so that my boss can go to those. Oh well--I may have plenty of chances in the future.

Everyone is saying that the overall mood of the convention is darker than it has been in many years. I wouldn't know about that, of course. I'm just happy to be here. I did get to talk to a number of job-seeking graduate students, all of whom were about as bitter and dejected as one might expect, if not more so. The most bitter was probably the guy who only wants to work at an elite four-year, and only teaching upper-level Brit Lit. I can see, on the one hand, how those are reasonable goals--but on the other hand... wow. People say that you don't go into English unless you think you're better than everyone else; what does it take to go into English with such exacting requirements? Of course, I'm not even sure that I can muster up the self-confidence to apply to grad school, so I'm not necessarily qualified to judge him.

I don't know. My oldest sister says she can't imagine trying to go into academia because she doesn't think that she's smart enough. To me, it seems like so much of that is just point of view. Imagine academia as a language. You can grow up speaking Chinese and never think twice about it; you can take Chinese in school and learn it bit by bit until you're comfortable with it. But if you have never been exposed to it, it seems far beyond your comprehension, alien, impenetrable.

I was never exposed to academia growing up. None of my relatives are academics, and my parents barely mentioned college to me, let alone graduate school. I spent years at community colleges and state schools where my professors' goals were basic, practical: Can my students conjugate a regular Spanish verb. Can they write a coherent English sentence in which the majority of the words are spelled correctly. Can they master the math they will need to survive in a job in retail, food service, maybe as a nurse. None of my classmates were expected to attend graduate school: hell, if they could graduate from the community college, from the California State, it'd be a bloody miracle.

In some ways--don't laugh--I'm a very timid person, and it never occurred to me to go beyond what was asked of me. At Reed I found that I could do a lot more than I had thought, simply because my professors asked me to do so. If they expected serious work from me, I figured, that must mean that I was capable of such work. It had never crossed my mind before. And if they encouraged me to go to graduate school, that must mean that I was capable of graduate-level work.

Having the confidence to attempt to go into academia seems like largely a matter of believing that you can figure it out. Its terms and customs, as intimidating as I (and my sister) find them, must be things that one can learn.

Augh. I'm rambling. Sorry. Here are some other things that happened. Maybe I'll put them in bullet form to keep me on track:

--I went into the graduate student lounge to leave some of our company swag. There was only one other person in there, a young man. I took a moment to look over the pamphlets on the table, and I overheard as a young woman came in, evidently surprising the man while he was checking himself out in the mirror. "Um... I realize that when you came in, it seemed like I was looking at myself in the mirror, but actually I was just thinking about something else and I didn't even realize that the mirror was there," he blustered to the girl, whom he didn't seem to know. How does one make it as far as graduate school and still be that socially inept? And I thought Reedies were awkward...

--A lechy old professor type sauntered up to our booth and spied the bowl of candy. "Oooh, I'm just going to take as many of your Kisses as I can!" he enthused to me, his voice dripping with forced innuendo. Hey, old dude, you know what's funny? Making young women uncomfortable! (How do you make it to late middle age and a professorship and still be that socially inept?)

--Another middle-aged professor explained to me very earnestly that young women are much more mature than young men, who are disgusting, stupid, and chauvinistic. Then he lingered around our booth for at least twenty minutes, attempting to make small talk and giving me hopeful grins.

(Those two incidents were the closest I have come to having someone try to pick me up, though I know at least a few people here are looking... I have been told--shock!--that the MLA is something of a meat market. I'm tempted to put on something tight and low-cut and see if I can find out, but I'm not sure my boss would condone that sort of investigative work, and anyway, my exhibitor badge is maybe something of a turnoff. It's my understanding that grad students are the typical prey. Man, not being in grad school means I miss out on everything.)

I want to say more, but honestly, I'm so tired that I'm pretty sure this is all just boring and stupid. I'll post again when I am thinking more coherently.

Meanwhile, if you are curious about the MLA Convention and want to hear about it from people who are smarter than squirrels, Scott McLemee is blogging about it, as is the MLA's executive director, Rosemary Feal.

well... it is, and it's not

I am at the MLA, and I practically just got here and it is already blowing my tiny little mind and I haven't even started work yet, and it's super late and I need to go to bed. But. I also finished the Odyssey on the plane on the way over, and I have a few things I want to mention before bed. Because I am bad at stuff.

I can't fully get behind this idea of the Odyssey as just a romp, just a romance. It nags at me. I mentioned already that Tiresias, when Odysseus visited him among the dead, was very clear about the additional hardships Odysseus would endure if his men slaughtered Helios' cattle. Let's look at this passage for a minute. It's long, but important:
Leave the beasts unharmed, your mind set on home,
and you all may still reach Ithaca--bent with hardship,
true--but harm them in any way, and I can see it now:
your ship destroyed, your men destroyed as well.
And even if you escape, you'll come home late
and come a broken man--all shipmates lost,
alone in a stranger's ship--
and you will find a world of pain at home,
crude, arrogant men devouring all your goods,
courting your noble wife, offering gifts to win her.
No doubt you will pay them back in blood when you come home!
But once you have killed those suitors in your halls--
by stealth or in open fight with slashing bronze--
go forth once more, you must...
carry your well-planed oar until you come
to a race of people who know nothing of the sea,
whose food is never seasoned with salt, strangers all
to ships with their crimson prows and long slim oars,
wings that make ships fly. And here is your sign--
unmistakable, clear, so clear you cannot miss it:
When another traveler falls in with you and calls
that weight across your shoulder a fan to winnow grain,
then plant your bladed, balanced oar in the earth
and sacrifice fine bests to the lord god of the sea,
Poseidon--a ram, a bull and a ramping wild boar--
then journey home and render noble offerings up
to the deathless gods who rule the vaulting skies,
to all the gods in order.
And at last your own death will steal upon you...
a gentle, painless death, far from the sea it comes
to take you down, borne down with the years in ripe old age
with all your people there in blessed peace around you. (11.125-156)

That's not even what I would call ominous. That is just very straightforward. (And it leaves little room for Odysseus' men not to slaughter the cattle of the sun, since he's been given such explicit instructions for how to deal with the fallout. After he's done with that little Calypso detour, of course. Plus some other stuff.) Odysseus, "man of twists and turns"--as Fagles likes to translate his epithet--has a lot more twists and turns coming up. I mean, look how long it took him to get home from Troy--and that was a journey with a fairly clear endpoint, whereas this is more like "come home when Poseidon is done being pissed at you."

And you don't get to forget this bit. Almost as soon as he's reunited with Penelope, even before they head to bed, Odysseus repeats this news to her pretty much word for word (he is just going outside, and may be some time). "And so," Penelope replies, "...if the gods will really grant a happier old age,/there's hope we'll escape our trials at last" (23.326-28). I mean... I wouldn't hold my breath. This is Odysseus, after all. God only knows how many ways he can find to screw up this business of finally making peace with Poseidon; how many other gods he'll inadvertently anger along the way.

And the phrasing, at least here in Fagles, is such that it's left open whether he'll make it home again any time before this "ripe old age" and "painless death." You can interpret it optimistically or... not. The way I'm reading these lines, it seems entirely possible that Odysseus has another ten-year journey coming up. And he just got home.

It reminds me a bit of the Iliad, actually--Hector is dead, and there's a lull in the fighting, but the war isn't over and Troy isn't going to fall for a while yet. What's more, we know that Achilles will die before that happens. Like Odysseus, he has two potential fates laid out for him, but for Achilles it's more of a Sophie's choice. Mind you, this is all from memory, but my recollection is that his mother, Thetis, tells Achilles that he can either remain out of the fighting and reach a peaceful and prosperous old age, or head back in and die young but glorious. Since Achilles ends up going back into battle--and killing Hector--to avenge Patroclus, we know for sure that he isn't long for this world. As Clare said, the Iliad ends with this sense that nothing is really going to be okay, but I'm not positive that the Odyssey is so different.


I'm also dying to talk about models of female sexuality in the Odyssey. You have your controlling seductresses, of course, Circe and Calypso, who--as Odysseus is always at great pains to point out--never win the man's heart. You have Penelope walking this impossible boundary, trying to placate everyone and never pleasing anyone: Telemachus constantly berating her, suitors hounding her; crying for Odysseus day and night (after twenty years?!)... and she can never win. After killing all the suitors, Odysseus conspires with Telemachus to make it seem as though a wedding is taking place so that the neighbors will be distracted and no one will realize yet what has actually happened:
And whoever heard the strains outside would say,
"A miracle--someone's married the queen at last!"

"One of her hundred suitors."
"That callous woman,
too faithless to keep her lord and master's house
to the bitter end--"
"Till he came sailing home." (23.165-69)

So apparently that is what the neighbors would have thought of Penelope, had she dared to remarry after twenty years alone. Good thing she didn't, eh?

And then, god help us, there is Clytemnestra, who "...brands with a foul name the breed of womankind,/ even the honest ones to come! (24.222-23). So says the ghost of Agamemnon, immediately after remarking that "[t]he fame of [Penelope's] great virtue will never die (24.216).

Evidently women can all be blamed for Clytemnestra's evil, but only Penelope can take credit for her own virtue.

And THEN if I were actually writing properly about this rather than hastily summarizing a few thoughts, I would talk about the maids, and how Telemachus kills a dozen of them basically just for sleeping with the suitors. They have brought disgrace upon the house of Odysseus, you see, what with the whole "being sluts" thing. Says Odysseus to his son:
"And once you've put the entire house in order,
march the women out of the great hall--between
the roundhouse and the courtyard's strong stockade--
and hack them with your swords, slash out all their lives--
blot out of their minds the joys of love they relished
under the suitors' bodies, rutting on the sly!" (22.465-70)

Man, and that is just the beginning of it. Telemachus, of course, decides that death by sword is too good for whores, and ends up hanging them in a super grisly little scene. The revulsion with which the two men respond to the spectre of female desire is searing in its vitriol, unpleasant to read.

And now I have to go to bed. Damn it.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

you can tell because at the end everyone is married...

I never thought of the Odyssey as a comic novel before, but it's starting to dawn on me that it is one. What?

Maybe it's because epics aren't often comedic -- even comic novels like Candide that cover long journeys and spans of time are so short and snappy that they can hardly be considered epics. Then again, epics aren't often intimate, but Beowulf will fight you in an alleyway. Anyway, when Clare says it's a "just a romp," she's absolutely right. I like to imagine Odysseus as just this dude who took a long time getting home and when people asked about it he told them about all the bad weather and the islands he'd seen and the people who had helped him, and they seemed bored and he kept talking and eventually it was this storm-swept adventure full of nubile maidens and one-eyed monsters.

(A thing that bothers me about the Odyssey is that I can't really seek out historical anecdotes about the author or the original manuscript, for obvious reasons. However, I'd like to point out that some guys with too much time took a debatable detail in the Odyssey and pinpointed the day the Odysseus returns home and kills all the suitors. For the record, it's April 16, 1178 BCE. We are totally having a party on April 16, and I'm gonna serve Odyssey-themed food. It's going to be the best thing that ever happened.)

Friday, December 26, 2008

how the Literary Iditarod saved Christmas

Ok, it's possible that the Literary Iditarod didn't save Christmas, and was in fact not related to Christmas in any way--save perhaps for the fact that I was able to read a lot of the Odyssey in three days off work. I'm on Book 18 (out of 24). Fiona's lagging a bit, but that's ok because I'm leaving tomorrow for the MLA Convention and I may fall behind a little with reading and blogging. I also have a copy of David Lodge's Small World, which was suggested to me by a Literary Person as something I should read before the MLA (I've avoided talking about my job on this blog because it is a personal blog and I don't want to, say, write something stupid or offensive that then, by association, reflects poorly on my place of work, or anything like that, but I have perhaps been remiss in not mentioning that I have the great good fortune to work with people who know a lot about literature, academia, and other topics similarly dear to my heart). Small World is the sequel to Changing Places, which I also have not read, and I hate reading a sequel without first having read its predecessor, but maybe for the sake of the Iditarod I should suck it up this time.

Anyway. So I'm excited about the MLA Convention (and staying in a nice hotel, you guys, I have stayed at a hotel-as-opposed-to-a-motel like twice in my life, it is going to be like a fancy vacation except for the part where I will be working the entire time), and with any luck I will learn Many Important Things about academia and English and so forth and then I will blog about them. (I was talking to my dad on the phone today, and he was like ...so you still want to be an English professor? Are you sure that's a good idea? Have you heard about this Recession thing? And I was like Dad, I got this, it's cool.) But it has been a slow week here at the Iditarod and it may be a slow next few days, depending on how things go. I'm counting on Fiona to pick up any slack.

Before turning to the Odyssey, I just want to thank all of you--both strangers and (mostly) friends--for the kind and thoughtful comments you've been leaving. While this blog is largely intended as a project just for the two of us, it's awesome that people are reading it, following it, and commenting. It keeps me on track, and it gives me stuff to think about. Thank you.

Also, my laptop just died there. For the third time tonight. Seriously, laptop? Dear Santa: Please bring me a shiny new MacBook to replace this temperamental and geriatric iBook (purchased used, on eBay, for $800, the summer before I started Reed, so... 2005). What's that? You say I was astoundingly naughty this year and I'm lucky you didn't just feed this laptop to Rudolph? Well... balls.


So on to the Odyssey. I think Clare has a point here: "The Odyssey is a just a romp, a story with an obvious goal, and in the end it's entirely, satisfactorily resolved. The Iliad is a political struggle and a great clash of human emotion, and nothing is all right in the end -- in fact, things are in many ways much worse than they began. It's poignant."

I can't argue with that. I sort of want to like the Iliad better, because it's more difficult and ultimately, almost inarguably, more meaningful. Hector dies, Achilles is going to die, the war is still dragging on for no clear reason... I mean, I wrote my thesis on Troilus and Cressida. How can I not like the Iliad better?

But the Odyssey is such a lark! Did you think the idea behind Bumfights was a recent one? Did you think it was just another sign of the decline of our modern society that people thought it would be hilarious to induce homeless men to engage in physical combat for the sake of paltry rewards? Because let me tell you, bum fights are at least as old as Homer. Check it out. In Book 18, Odysseus is back at his palace in Ithaca, but he's disguised as a beggar so he can see what's going on, scope out the situation with Penelope and her zillion suitors, maybe plot some horrific bloody revenge. No one but his son Telemachus knows who he is; they all just think he's this impoverished, hungry old geezer. So this actual tramp, Arnaeus--"Irus for short/ because he'd hustle messages at any beck and call" (18.8-9) (heh, Irus, get it?)--comes up and threatens Odysseus, because he doesn't want competition for any food that might be begged from the numerous wealthy suitors.

Irus and Odysseus begin trading insults, which the suitors think is hilarious:
And Antinous, that grand prince, hearing them wrangle,
broke into gloating laughter, calling out to the suitors,
"Friends, nothing like this has come our way before--
what sport some god has brought the palace now!
The stranger and Irus, look,
they'd battle it out together, fists flying.
Come, let's pit them against each other--fast!"

All leapt from their seats with whoops of laughter,
clustering round the pair of ragged beggars there
as Eupithes' son Antinous planned the contest.
"Quiet, my fine friends. Here's what I propose.
These goat sausages sizzling here in the fire--
we packed them with fat and blood to have for supper.
Now, whoever wins this bout and proves the stronger,
let that man step up and take his pick of the lot!
What's more, from this day on he feasts among us--
no other beggar will we allow inside
to cadge his meals from us!" (18.41-58)

Bum fights, you guys. Classy, right? Of course Odysseus wins--he's Odysseus, for one thing, and for another the plot requires him to be able to hang around with the suitors for a while longer. You kind of have to feel bad for the actual bum. But the point is, there's nothing heroic about this, nothing epic, nothing that says much about life and the way of the world (besides whatever you have deduced from learning that the idea of bum fights is thousands of years old). It's just silly, and ridiculous, and sort of a lot of fun to read.

It's also very, very different from the Iliad. Can you imagine the Iliad with bum fights? If anything is going to make you ruminate on whether "Homer" was just one man or two or more, this will do it.


On an unrelated note, I'm wondering about time in the Odyssey. It seems so malleable. Odysseus has been gone for twenty years, but his dog is still alive when he gets back. Just barely, mind you--the poor thing kicks it pretty much as soon as Odysseus shows up--but still. The scene is super sad:
Now, as they talked on, a dog that lay there
lifted up his muzzle, pricked his ears...
It was Argos, long-enduring Odysseus' dog
he trained as a puppy once, but little joy he got
since all too soon he shipped to sacred Troy.
In the old days young hunters loved to set him
coursing after the wild goats and deer and hares.
But now with his master gone he lawy there, castaway, [...]
Infested with ticks, half-dead from neglect,
here lay the hound, old Argos.
But the moment he sensed Odysseus standing by
he thumped his tail, nuzzling low, and his ears dropped,
though he had no strength to drag himself an inch
toward his master. [...]

But the dark shadow of death closed down on Argos' eyes
the instant he saw Odysseus, twenty years away. (17.317-333; 359-360)

That is ridiculously sad. Although not as sad as the Futurama episode in which Fry's dog dies waiting for him. That is the saddest dog-related story of all time, straight up. (Oh god, you should never look these things up on the Wikipedia or you may discover that they are based on things that actually happened and then you will be even more sad.)

Anyway, Hachikō waited ten years for his master before dying; Fry's dog waited twelve years. Odysseus' dog lived for twenty years. What is going on there? Do dogs ever even live that long? And that's just the start of it. Penelope is described as "looking for all the world like Artemis or golden Aphrodite" (17.37)--which is to say, crazy beautiful--despite the fact that she and Odysseus were married with a small child when he took off twenty years ago, so there's no way she can be much under 35, and she could easily be 40 or older. Which is no biggie these days (Christy Turlington is about to turn 40 and she is approximately one million times hotter than I will ever be), but I'm pretty sure that even 35 was right next door to dead in those days. And Helen is described as continuing to be the most beautiful woman that ever happened, though she must be at least Penelope's age. Meanwhile, Nestor is still alive--seriously how can Nestor still be alive, he is like Methusalah at this point, it is totally absurd--as is Odysseus' father Laertes, and Odysseus himself is still handsome and strong like ox although he was a grown man and already famous when he left Ithaca. And Telemachus, who must be in his early twenties by now, is still more or less a boy, too young and weak to tell those insolent suitors what's what.

Now I think the Odyssey is set in some sort of heroic age, which I vaguely remember from Hesiod, and I could maybe buy that people just lived longer then, like in the Bible. Google Books offers some useful excerpts from The Quest for Immortality: Science at the Frontiers of Aging, by Stuart Jay Olshansky and Bruce A. Carnes: "The imagery of an idyllic distant time in the past when people were forever young, followed by a progressive trend toward shorter lifespans driven by increasingly decadent lifestyles, is a classic Antediluvian theme" (45). They also say that some people believe that the preposterously long lives of early Biblical characters are meant to be metaphorical, a sort of representation of how important they were--and certainly crying metaphor would make this aspect of the Odyssey a lot easier to swallow.

In any case, it's never clear how this is supposed to work, and Athena has a habit of confusing things still further by making her favorite people look more impressive and attractive for special occasions; she does so, at various times, for Telemachus, Odysseus, and Penelope. (Circe does something similar, making Odysseus' men taller and more handsome to make up for having transformed them briefly into swine.) [Also: to get Penelope extra gorgeous so she can have particular power over her suitors, Athena "made her taller, fuller in form to all men's eyes,/ her skin whiter than ivory freshly carved..." (17.222-23); uh, in case you were wondering, tall, curvy, pale women are all the rage. I missed my era.)

Does anyone have any thoughts about this nebulous depiction of time and age? I want to borrow someone's JSTOR privileges, or maybe visit the Library of Congress, so I can find out what the scholars have to say about it. It's probably something simple and obvious and I just have rocks for brains. I think my desire for everything to be completely literal and logical is hurting me here: the gods are hanging around messing with stuff all the time, Odysseus is held captive by nymphs and a Cyclops, Poseidon turns a boat and all its sailors into a rock to punish the Phaeacians, Odysseus hangs out with a bunch of ghosts in the Kingdom of the Dead, and I'm bothered by the fact that people are staying young for a long time? (I'm also bothered by the fact that Odysseus allowed his men to kill and eat the Cattle of the Sun! After both Tiresias and Circe made it one hundred percent clear that only badness would result! I know, ok, he was outnumbered and then he fell asleep, but couldn't he have told them that two very reliable sources said they would all die if they ate the damn cattle?! Oh my god, you people and your poor life choices, it pains me so much.)


The other thing I wanted to talk about was the lifespan of certain Greek myths. People in the Odyssey keep referring to, say, Oedipus and Orestes, and I think oh yeah, Sophocles, Aeschylus--and then I remember that Theban plays and the Oresteia wouldn't be written for hundreds of years yet. Tantalus and Sisyphus show up too; they won't make their appearances in the Metamorphoses for another, what, eight centuries or so, but they'll show up from time to time in the intervening years. There are so many figures here who pop up repeatedly in Greek and then Roman works. They sure loved to repeat their stories. I want to talk about this more, maybe look into it, but I have been writing this post for over two hours now--how is that possible?!--and I haven't even packed for the MLA and I'm leaving in the morning.

Monday, December 22, 2008

omnia mea mecum porto

OK, first of all I want to say that I think Virginia Heffernan's review of Sarah Vowell's book was monumentally unfair, mostly because she seems to have a problem with Sarah Vowell's personality even more than her writing, and because she criticizes Vowell for things that ... don't make sense. Witness:
Vowell’s whole alt-­everything vibe is just dated enough to be cringey. And then there’s her Great Plains accent: can something so wholesome-soundin’ be real? And her politics. Perfectly early-millennium coastal (green, be good, Obama, etc.). Can she really take pleasure in plumping for an autofill ideology that’s so widely shared?

In other words, "I am writing for the New York Times, and I get really annoyed when people are pro-Obama. Also, those people with accents. They really piss me off."

If the above paragraph makes no sense, read Serena's last entry. All will be revealed. She also links to the review.

Anyway, back to The Odyssey. It is something of a domestic epic, but that's why I prefer it to The Iliad, I think. It's like the longest white-text in the world.* But the where-are-they-now is an essential part of the epic. There are a lot of homages to the Odyssey -- some are respectable and some aren't -- but The Odyssey itself is an awful lot of "Hey, I wonder what happened to Helen and Menelaus AFTER THEY GOT HOME!"

And the truth is, I wondered! So thanks, Homer. You are way more awesome than that woman who wrote the sequel to Gone With the Wind.

All right, but really. Why is Odysseus, who of course matters in The Iliad but is hardly the main event, interesting enough to warrant his own spinoff?

It's because he's the only hero "regular people" can cotton to. The readers don't have god given invincibility, we're not launching any ships with our faces, and we don't have any prophetic powers. But everyone can believe they're clever (even if it's not true), and Odysseus' cleverness and tenacity allows him to endure an entire epic's worth of trials. And he's always just wanted to be home with his wife in Ithaca. There's a drive to stay in and later to return to his normal life that's immensely endearing, especially for people trapped in the details of the day-to-day. Quotidian doesn't look so bad when the alternative is fighting off cyclopes.

Also, this is very silly, but as a 22-year-old without any real long-term goals decided on, I look at The Odyssey and I think: HEY, he has a goal! Look at what you can achieve when you know what you want! I just need a goal!

Then the music swells. It's a pretty good time.

*"White-text" apparently doesn't have a Wikipedia entry, so I'm pretty sure I made it up, but I mean the little addendums to biopics, when they have white text on a black screen saying "Richard Nixon never left his house again. In 1978 he published his 1,000 page autobiography." Know what I mean? Well now you have something to call it too. If that's the kind of thing people talk about. Oh god, forget I said anything.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

There is chaos under my blog, and the situation is excellent.

Fiona and I have discussed the fact that our target audience here is basically... my mother. Except I think her computer is broken. And possibly Fiona's little brother because I understand he spends a lot of time online. My boss assures me that he reads it too--very comforting--but really, the idea behind the Literary Iditarod essentially guarantees that no one will read it. Most people, I would guess, have not read the books we're reading, or maybe read them for a high school class that they'd rather forget. The few who have read most of these books are likely already to know a lot more about them than we do, and therefore to find our observations trivial and boring.

Mostly I feel ok about no one reading our blog. I did feel a little bit worse when I read this review of The Wordy Shipmates. In fairness, at times that book was--okay--annoying, but the review was harsher than I felt was really warranted. "With all these middlebrow historians making scholarly work perfectly accessible," Virginia Heffernan writes, "do we really need still more accessibility — pierced-brow history, maybe, with TV and pop-music references?"


Another burn: "Vowell, who constantly emphasizes how nerdy (meaning impressive) she finds her own interest in the Puritans, introduces figures like John Winthrop and Roger Williams as if no one’s ever heard of them."

All right, I'm just going to own this one right here and now: I didn't know who they were before I read The Wordy Shipmates. Admittedly, I dropped out of high school after a year, and got two years of what should've been my high school education at decidedly mediocre Irish schools, so my knowledge of American history is... well... there's not a lot of it--but I'm not the most ignorant person there ever was, and I didn't know the first thing about Winthrop and Williams. It seems unlikely, moreover, that I would've been inspired to pick up a book about them if Fiona hadn't spoken so highly of Sarah Vowell. Just because something has been made accessible doesn't mean it's appealing.

Anyway. I digress. Heffernan's point is that, if you really want to learn about the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Vowell is maybe not your best bet. And of course if you really want to learn about Western lit classics, we are not your best bet. Which is fine, since that's not so much the point of the Literary Iditarod. But part of the point of the Iditarod is to make silly comments about great works, which is sort of the Sarah Vowell model. I can see why Heffernan is irritated about that--there's a lot more to say about the Massachussetts Bay Colony (/Homer), and you shouldn't have to have basic history (/literature) fed to you with a spoon. But isn't there room for both highbrow scholarship and lightweight books (/blogs)? I think it can be helpful to have a wide range of viewpoints and contexts; we can't all be David McCullough (/...Clifford Geertz?).

The Iditarod is also largely extraneous to one of its other ostensible raisons d'être: preparing me for the lit GRE. Most of the advice I see about it says buy the Princeton Review guide, maybe buy a Norton anthology or two, and cram. And that's more than reasonable--having seen some sample questions in my study book, well... I need not have skimmed a word of Hawthorne (and I haven't, yet) to be able to name Hester Prynne, and all the epic poetry I can read will never tell me that it was Maya Angelou who worked as a streetcar conductor and also as a prostitute (nor will it tell you that my mom used to date her son, Guy Johnson; I hope that's on the test).

I feel like I should do the reading, though, or at least as much of it as I can. And I enjoy it. So maybe there's no real reason for you to read our blog or for us to write it (especially Fiona--she doesn't even want to go to grad school!).

But if you are reading our blog and you have read Homer, I'd love to hear your thoughts about the Odyssey versus the Iliad. I'm finding the Odyssey so much more readable, to the point where I've flipped ahead a few times at tense points to see when things will be resolved. It's gripping! I want to know how things go down!* I'm sure some of that has to do with Lattimore vs. Fagles, but is some just a difference in the books themselves? David says that "a lot more happens in the Odyssey," but he's only read the condensed version, too, so I'm not sure I can trust his opinion. Is the Odyssey intrinsically more interesting? Is Fagles just way, way easier (I mean, he definitely is)? Knox writes,
One ancient critic, the author of the treatise On the Sublime, thought that the Odyssey was the product of Homer's old age, of "a mind in decline; it was a work that could be compared to the setting sun--the size remained, without the force." ...What prompted his comment "without the force" is clearly his preference for the sustained heroic level of the Iliad over what he terms the Odyssey's presentation of "the fabulous and incredible" as well as the realistic description of life in the farms and palace of Odysseus' domain, which, he says, "forms a kind of comedy of manners." (23)
Maybe I just like the comedy of manners stuff... the Iliad's gory battle scenes got a little repetitive for me. (Although when it comes to gore, the Odyssey maybe tops its predecessor; I was going to quote from the scene where Odysseus gouges out Polyphemus' eye, but then I realized that I don't even want to read it again, let alone commit it to print. Eye-gouging is always bad, no matter whose they are... Oedipus', Gloucester's, Polyphemus'... it's always gross and I always feel sick. Why you gotta gouge out so many eyes, Great Authors?) One of the things that keeps the Odyssey interesting is the huge variety of settings, characters, and events.

So did you like the Iliad better or the Odyssey? Why? And which are your favorite translations?

I wanted to make a more Odyssey-centric post, but I guess I got sidetracked. So further Odyssey to come.


*Even though Homer basically tells you everything at the outset:
Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds,
many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea,
fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.
But he could not save them from disaster, hard as he strove--
the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all,
the blind fools, they devoured the cattle of the Sun
and the Sungod wiped from sight the day of their return. [...]
But one man alone...
his heart set on his wife and his return--
Calypso, the bewitching nymph, the lustrous goddess, held him back,
deep in her arching caverns, craving him for a husband.
But then, when the wheeling seasons brought the year around,
that year spun out by the gods when he should reach his home,
Ithaca--though not even there would he be free of trials,
even among his loved ones--then every god took pity,
all except Poseidon. He raged on, seething against
the great Odysseus till he reached his native land. (ll. 1.1-10, 15-24)
Geez, Homer, way to give away like the entire plot. It's cool. I didn't want any suspense anyway. But really, not even a "spoiler alert" or anything?

Friday, December 19, 2008

I read the news today, oh boy

I have been reading (and very much enjoying) the Odyssey all week--next to Lattimore, Fagles reads like Beatrix Potter, so it's been easy and fun. But I have been thinking more about grad school, so that's going to be the substance of this post.

I've mentioned that I feel like I don't know much about grad school, and academia in general. I do know that I am getting myself into something very intimidating, which is a large part of why I have been putting it off for so long. There are no jobs for English Ph.D's! What English jobs exist are given to adjuncts! But don't hesitate--the longer you wait to get your Ph.D, the harder it will be to snag one of the three remaining jobs!

It just seems like such hubris to say, I am good enough to do this. I have the talent, the work ethic, the sheer luck it would take to make it past all of these obstacles and land a tenure-track job at a good school.

There's a long-standing joke at Reed that every student thinks he or she is the one who is secretly not smart enough to be there. The durability and the ring of truth to this joke are such that one year's orientation t-shirts read something like, "You are not an Admissions mistake."

I never felt like an Admissions mistake, exactly--my test scores and my post-high school grades were such that I figured it made sense for me to be there, and I never thought I was stupid or anything like that. But I did frequently feel outclassed: I didn't make it past a year at my lousy public high school, and here were all these kids who'd already read Hawthorne and Dickens and Virgil (in Latin!), who'd already heard of Derrida and Foucault, who knew what postmodernism was or could at least convince you that they did. What had I been doing all these years, I wondered. Look, my high school was going to allow me to take AP English as a sophomore (the only student for whom they'd ever made such an exception), but I gave up on trying to do the summer reading because I was bored by Huckleberry Finn. Either I was the epitome of wasted potential or people just kept thinking I was smarter than I am.

To a certain extent, my obvious inferiority was a boon. I worked all day, every day in a fever of terror, convinced both that I was at a serious disadvantage and that everyone else was studying even harder. I was at something of a disadvantage, having arrived at Reed as a junior with less education than many freshmen, but the panic induced by this awareness served me rather well. By the time I realized that I was achieving more than I'd anticipated (I would have been delighted, at first, to find myself in the middle of the class, as long as I was even passing), I was accustomed to making school my entire life, and by then it didn't seem like so big a sacrifice.

In any case. Although I think they appreciated my earnestness and dedication, I don't think my professors were grading me out of pity or because they knew I was trying; I must have been producing good work. And Ph.D preparation is a constitutive element of Reed as an institution (check out the statistics on female Reed grads obtaining Ph.D's in English lit). All of which is to say: Reed is good at preparing people to earn Ph.D's; I was good at Reed; therefore I would probably do well at earning a Ph.D.

Should that be comforting? It's not really comforting. The entire process--GRE to applications to acceptance to dissertation to job searches to tenure-track positions to actually earning tenure and being a good professor--seems impossibly complex and overwhelming. I must be crazy to entertain such an idea.

Of course, earning a Ph.D. needn't entail becoming a professor. Before I got my current job, I spent a number of months as an intern at a publishing company. My boss there--another Reed graduate, who'd even had the same thesis advisor--had a Ph.D from an excellent large public, but had decided not to go into academia. She said that her English doctorate served her very well in the publishing world, allowing her to skip immediately into the higher echelons and avoid years of working her way up. Given the choice between spending my time getting a Ph.D and spending it attempting to work my way up in a company or industry, I think I'd prefer the Ph.D: I really love school and I do well there; I don't want an advanced degree solely for the purpose of getting a particular job.

In a way, though, even that is terrifying. Getting an English degree for the sake of it? That just seems so impractical, almost laughable.

I mean, I would like to be a professor. I think? I loved Reed, I love literature and language, I love learning new things, I love being surrounded by people who are intelligent and curious, I even love having crazy deadlines and way too much to do. So it makes sense to go into academia... sort of... right?

BREAKING NEWS: Young white woman with English degree from small liberal arts college isn't sure what to do with her life; contemplates graduate school, feels inadequate; writes boring blog post detailing all her neuroses and self-doubt. STORY AT ELEVEN. Also: World Leaders React.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"I'm mad about you, my little shoplifter"

For a high-seas adventure, The Odyssey is awfully domestic. When I last read it — eight years ago. Jesus I'm old — I thought of it as a great love story. He struggles for ten years to get home! She waits for ten years post-war, when she has no reason to believe he's alive! Also she manages not to kill Telemachus, which I would have. I'm sure it was hard for him to grow up without a father (those guys tend to be maladjusted in myth, see Phaeton), but he's just the most detestable little jerk and so disrespectful to his mother.

Serena said she didn't think Odysseus deserved Penelope, since he had so many dalliances on the way home. And it's true I suppose, but I still love them. They're both so crafty! If they were in a 1930s movie they'd be jewel thieves and they'd deceive everybody and at the very end he'd come home with the loot. Of course, in my ideal update, Odyssey (directed by Ernst Lubitsch, of course), the dialogue when he finally, finally comes home after 20 years goes something like:

Penelope: "What took you so long?"
Odysseus: "Traffic was a bitch."

OK, it's a little crude for Lubitsch. Shh.

Side note: Samuel Butler, author of The Way of All Flesh and one translator of The Odyssey, decided that the epic was written by a woman, because:

Men seem unable to draw women at all without either laughing at them or caricaturing them; and so, perhaps, a woman never draws a man so felicitously as when she is making him ridiculous. If she means to make him so she is certain to succeed; if she does not mean it she will succeed more surely still. Either sex, in fact, can caricature the other delightfully, and certainly no writer has ever shown more completely than the writer of the "Odyssey" has done that, next to the glorification of woman, she considers man's little ways and weaknesses to be the fittest theme on which her genius can be displayed. But I doubt whether any writer in the whole range of literature (excepting, I suppose, Shakespeare) has succeeded in drawing a full length, life-sized, serious portrait of a member of the sex opposite to the writer's own.

There will be more about this when I've read more. Fear not.

We had my camera on the train. Whoops.

Because sometimes you have to stop reading The Odyssey on the Metro so you can annoy the other people on the train by taking pictures and giggling loudly.

Sometimes Serena hides behind her book and looks angry, but really it symbolizes how Odysseus hid behind his beggarly disguise near the end.

And then when I hit myself in the face with the book, which is what's happening here, you see, it means "oh, the trials of man, they continue to hit me in the metaphorical face...with their...poignancy and their hard covers."

Serena searches the Metro tunnel for monsters (just in case).

The Metro ride was approximately 10 years long but I did not anger any gods or kill any Cyclops, so I am ahead of Odysseus already.

Monday, December 15, 2008

he blinded me with library science!

Here we have Homer's Odyssey as translated by the celebrated Robert Fagles, who died this past March. He was the Arthur Marks '19 Professor of Comparative Literature Emeritus at Princeton University, where he had taught since 1960. (Wow.)

This is the 1996 Penguin Classics edition, with an introduction and notes by Bernard Knox--another well-known classicist, who taught at Yale for many years--who also did the intro for Fagles' Iliad and three Theban plays. I chose the Fagles on purpose--but let me backtrack for a moment.

It is something of a detour (heh) to read the Odyssey after Beowulf. We have a couple of reasons for this slight change of plans. After learning that the GRE would have more than just the English-language classics on it, we decided to add some Greeks to our list, things that either I hadn't read for Hum110 or have since grown fuzzy on (I have got to reread the Oresteia--I can never remember what happens in which part). The Odyssey, in fairness, I probably don't need to read; I have read and studied the Iliad, after all, and I'm very familiar with the story; we even read the condensed version in high school.

But then... we read the condensed version in high school. They gave Homer the Reader's Digest treatment. It just doesn't seem right! I don't want to live my life with the secret shame of never having read the real thing. In any case, I really wanted to read a Fagles translation, because as I mentioned before, we read the Lattimore for Hum110, and a lot of the geekier classics-heads were pretty irked that we read him instead of Fagles. (But Lattimore was PBK, which is a fun thing.) So I wanted to know what I was missing.

I haven't gotten very far in yet, so I'm not sure how I feel. I know I don't feel very good, though, about something Knox mentions in the introduction. He says that Fagles' Iliad ends with, "And so the Trojans buried Hector breaker of horses" (24.944). If I recall correctly (I think I do), Lattimore's ends with, "Such was the funeral of Hector, breaker of horses." Fiona says that she believes Greek to be a very active language, and maybe Fagles' translation is more accurate. Which is altogether possible; Lattimore, of course, does his best to approximate the poem's original meter (Oliver Taplin, in this 1990 review of Fagles' Iliad, says that Lattimore chose a "long, free six-beat line"), but he has also gotten a lot of praise for sticking closely to the text's original meaning. Fagles--says Taplin--uses between three and seven beats per line, but usually six. A more relaxed meter might allow him to translate more directly, but really I'm just speculating.

In any case. Fagles is very famous, and I've read Lattimore, so it's Fagles' Odyssey we're reading. I really loved Knox's introduction, and I want to share three exciting things that I learned from it:

1. The Odyssey, of course, is in dactylic hexameter, as are the Iliad and the Aeneid. Hexameter means six metrical units, obviously; Knox informs me that a dactyl is "a long plus two shorts" and spondees are "two longs." (Boring, but it's good to know about meter.) But! What I didn't know is that, "The syllables are literally long and short; the meter is based on pronunciation time, not, as in our language, on stress" (12). I guess that's something I should have known by now; I'm sure we must have discussed it in class. But as an English major--and one who focused on Shakespeare!--I never so much as entertained the notion of a metrical style based on something other than stresses. Exciting times, guys.

2. This is... this is kind of the best thing ever. In a discussion of whether Homer would have composed his works as oral poetry or in writing, Knox says,
We do not know when papyrus, the paper of the ancient world, was first available in Greece, though we do know that it came at first not from its almost exclusive source, Egypt--which was not opened to Greek merchants until the sixth century B.C.--but from the Phoenician port the Greeks called Byblos (the Greek word for book was biblion--our "Bible"). 21
Guys. That is awesome. Dictionary.com tells the same story, but I would never have known if Knox hadn't told me. It also explains what libros are doing in the biblioteca. Oh, Bernard Knox, you blinded me with library science.

3. One more. Just one. On the subject of pirates, Knox mentions that "the young Julius Caesar was captured by pirates near the small island of Pharmacusa off the Ionian coast and held for ransom" (29). Caesar? Pirates? Ransom? Someone make a musical out of this! Or at least a bad Johnny Depp vehicle.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Beowulf and Religion; or, Ireland Makes Me Giggle

Leigh, a friend of mine from Reed, ended up making a blog post about religion in Beowulf. He was a classics major, so you should almost significantly give significantly more weight to his words than mine on any issues pertaining to ancient texts (also comic books). Leigh writes,
The situation is strikingly similar to Homer, where we have a text that doesn’t have a lot of precedents but also obviously describes situations considerably earlier than itself. It makes dating the thing, or even isolating and dating the various layers within it, almost impossible, but maybe what’s interesting for your purposes is that it represents a literate Christian scribe (or series of scribes) trying to make sense of an illiterate pagan society (and possibly working from an oral text, or group of texts, that he’s received).
He goes on to discuss the various reasons that religion, which comes up so frequently in Beowulf, might have ended up being portrayed in such a nebulous and paradoxical fashion, but the two main theories are basically as outlined above: either you have a Christian author imposing his own sort of order on his depiction of what he knows was a very different society, or you have a Christian editor sticking some pious bits into an older text.

Thomas D. Hill (who has been teaching English at Cornell since 1967!), in his essay "The Christian Language and Theme of Beowulf,"* offers a slightly different take. Essentially, he sees the author as a Christian who admired the pagan heroes of myth and had "tolerance and respect for the past" (213), as opposed to, say, Alcuin, who wrote, "The Heavenly King does not wish to have communion with pagan and forgotten kings... for the eternal King reigns in Heaven, while the forgotten pagan king wails in Hell" (Norton p. 91, from Donald A. Bullough's 1993 translation). The point being that a lot of Christian scholars of that era did not look kindly on their pagan predecessors, however admirable or legendary, but the Beowulf-poet, argues Hill, was different. He "was willing to question the authority of what must have been the majority opinion of the church of his time" (210). (Hill mentions that other critics have tended instead to argue either that the Beowulf-poet simply wasn't particularly concerned with theological consistency or that he accepted that his heroes would be doomed to Hell.)

And now some lengthier quotes, because I think that Hill offers a very useful way to understand the poem's theology, but it's 2am and I don't trust myself to give a halfway-decent summary of anything he says:
...[I]t seems to me that the most consistent way to read the poem as we have it is to assume that the Beowulf-poet had thought long and hard about the problem and had arrived at (or had been taught) an essentially "humanistic" reading of his forefathers' paganism. He seems to have believed that the best and greatest of these men knew about God, creation, and natural moral law, and that when they died their souls went to heaven. ...
...Beowulf is a remarkably consistent text in that the religious language of the poem reflects the religious knowledge of those patriarchs who lived before the covenants and the creation of Israel. It is useful to have a term to define the religion of Beowulf, Hrothgar, and the good Germanic heroes in the poem and I would suggest that we define them as Noachites, that is, as gentiles who share the religious heritage and knowledge of Noah and his sons without having access to the revealed knowledge of God which was granted to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.... (202)
As for the bit about idol-worship and not knowing God, well, Hill argues that it doesn't match anything else in the text and can simply be deemed corrupt; either "someone else added that passage" or "the Beowulf-poet forgot for a moment to maintain the careful balance which he maintains elsewhere in the poem" (204); Hill seems to lean pretty heavily toward the former explanation. The latter is funnier, though.

Then, of course, you have the whole problem of the fact that Beowulf and his buddies worship just the one God who seems to have a whole awful lot in common with the Christian God, whereas
the pre-Christian Germanic peoples were in fact pagans who worshipped a number of different gods and there is no historical evidence that any of these peoples anticipated the distinctive Judeo-Christian God, who created the heavens and the earth (Beowulf lines 90-98 and who governs the course of history (Beowulf lines 696-702). (205)
Hill deals with this with the same idea that Leigh mentioned, that of a Christian scribe/author who, despite having a fairly firm grasp on religious history, chooses to order his fictional world in a manner he finds more palatable or more comfortable.

Hill offers a couple of examples from Old Irish and Old Norse-Icelandic literature to show how other early Christian authors dealt with the problem of having legendary heroes who happened to be pagans. Not wanting to imagine their heroes burning in hell, these authors evidently thought it would be ok for pagans--if they were exceptionally awesome--to go to Heaven, so they strained credibility and theology to make this possible. This is the best example, by far:
Thus in the death tale of Conchobar, Conchobar is wounded (the solidified brain of a slain enemy is embedded in his skull) and only partially healed--any excitement will kill him. He remains seven years in this parlous state until he is told of the passion of Jesus, leaps up to lead an onslaught of the Ulstermen to avenge this crime, and dies as an Irish martyr to the faith. (207)
THAT IS TOTALLY SWEET. Did you just read that part? He had a solified brain! In his brain! Also... what??

Hill takes the story from Ancient Irish Tales (1969), by Tom Peete Cross and Clark Harris Slover, which I should clearly track down and read because I am utterly enamored of the beautiful logic of that story. And apparently Cu Chulainn's salvation was arranged via similarly improbable happenstance.

This is going to have to end my discussion of religion in Beowulf, and indeed Beowulf itself, because I have already started reading Bernard Knox's introduction to the Fagles translation of the Odyssey. Don't be sad. Fiona still has one more Beowulf post to make, and also I am learning some amazing things from the Knox introduction. For real.

But--while we're on the topic of things that are both Irish and hilariously entertaining--I want to take a very brief detour back to the Heaney introduction, from which I learned this thing that I forgot to share with you. In a discussion of language and why he chose to translate Beowulf into, of all things, an old Ulster dialect, Heaney happens to mention that "the word 'whiskey' is the same word as the Irish and Scots Gaelic word uisce, meaning water" (xxxiv).

Explains a lot, doesn't it?

*All criticism I have cited, up till and including Hill, has been taken from the previously-mentioned Norton edition. I have used page numbers (usually marked with p. or pp.) when citing criticism from the book and line numbers (usually marked with l. or ll.) when citing the poem itself; I hope this system makes sense to you. I'll try to be consistent with it.

"We don't want any adventures here, thank you!"

The time has come (the walrus said) to talk of Tolkien and Beowulf.

Tolkien was a Beowulf scholar, and he delivered a famous lecture ("The Monsters and the Critics") that called for an examination of Beowulf as poetry, as story rather than artifact. After all, its reliability as a historical document has to be questionable. Sure, it didn't survive all those centuries because of any perceived literary merit -- it was just luck -- but to Tolkien, "there is not much poetry in the world like this." And thus he changed Beowulf scholarship forever. Now we approach it as poetry, not solely as a record of the stories told in the eleventh century, or the funeral practices, or the geography of Scandinavia. Yes, we study it because it's all we have. If dozens of Old English epics survived, maybe we'd study "The Lay of Brainless Bartholemew" or something. But that alone doesn't mean Beowulf is worthless as literature.

ANYWAY, so Tolkien was the most influential Beowulf scholar who ever lived. But as a person who grew up inundated with The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (my mother had read both out loud to me and my brother at least twice by the time I was eight), I'm much more interested in what the Titanic did to the iceberg.

After all, reading Beowulf, it's hard not to see the obvious. Beowulf's dragon is awoken when a hapless slave steals a gold-plated cup from his hoard. The dragon, enraged, flies around setting fire to things and generally laying waste and terrorizing the countryside. The Hobbit (of which, unfortunately, I don't have a copy to hand) duplicates this almost exactly ... Bilbo Baggins sneaks up on the dragon Smaug and steals a large gold cup. When Smaug realizes that the cup is gone, he blames the townsfolk who nest at the base of his mountain and starts flaming houses. Of course, Tolkien's dragon is writ larger. In Beowulf, the dragon lives in a "barrow" -- basically a little mound. I like imagining a tiny, cute dragon that belches little smoke puffs. Smaug has an entire mountain, and his stomach is nearly invincible because it is MADE OF TREASURE.

It makes sense that The Hobbit would have smatterings of Beowulf. Tolkien began The Hobbit as a bedtime story for his kids, so why not borrow a little from the Old English poem he was an expert on? It's not like the kids were going to call foul. Then when it gets published it just looks like masterful allusion. Everybody wins. Oh, Tolkien, you crafty man.

In countless other little ways, Beowulf influences Tolkien's sagas of Middle Earth. Even the word 'orc' is derived from 'orc-neas,' a term appearing in Beowulf that Heaney translates as "evil phantoms" (ll. 112). In fact, Old English massively influenced the names and languages Tolkien used in Middle-Earth (my favorite? The characters Eomer and Froda, of Beowulf. Also, did you know that Frodo was originally named Bingo? Heh.)

Is there a point to all this? Um ... Tolkien said he was trying to create a "mythology for England," which puzzled me because England has plenty of mythology, from Arthur to Robin Hood. Problem is, none of these stories is as bad-ass as Beowulf. Even the Round Table doesn't have the same primitive Viking brotherhood vibe that Tolkien so clearly craved and so painstakingly recreated in his own work. Reading Beowulf makes the Lord of the Rings seem almost like fanfiction. The best fanfiction ever written, but still. I bet Tolkien would have participated in Beowulf LARPs if they'd existed at Oxford.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

goodnight, sweet ring-giver

So yes, I will write that post about Beowulf and Tolkien one of these days, but for now what's on my mind is Hamlet.

Surely not. Beowulf doesn't wear black. Beowulf is the supreme embodiment of strength and will. Beowulf ripped off Grendel's arm with his bare hands, for god's sake, and Hamlet can't even decide whether he wants his cornflakes in the morning.

It's the transience of the drama that strikes me. One of my favorite things about Hamlet has always been the very end, which most productions omit. My geopolitical context, let me show you it. Or rather, let me cut it because I'm afraid some of our more venerable audience members might not make it out alive if we force them to remain seated for one. more. moment.

ANYWAY, the end of Hamlet. We've been so focused on this dysfunctional family for three hours -- who's incestuous, who murdered who, why the hell the aide-de-camp who described Ophelia's half hour floating time before she slowly drowned didn't just PULL HER OUT OF THE POND -- and finally the bloody denouement comes. Everyone we care about is dead, but Shakespeare didn't forget that Denmark was a kingdom, and that when the royal family goes and implodes, someone is going to come in and take over. This whole ridiculous incident was just a blip on the Northern European radar screen. Dynasties come and go. The prince of Norway marches in after beating the crap out of Poland, sees that everyone's dead, and decides that it's time to be king.

I guess it always surprised me that in something so epic, so tragic, so heightened, the final message is basically "Life goes on."

Beowulf is the same ... the final scene in which Beowulf's body is burned has such grandeur:
On a height they kindled the hugest of all
funeral fires; fumes of woodsmoke
billowed darkly up, the blaze roared
and drowned out their weeping, wind died down
and flames wrought havoc in the hot bone-house,
burning it to the core. (ll. 3143-3148)

But immediately after:
A Geat woman too sang out in grief;
with hair bound up, she unburdened herself
of her worst fears, a wild litany
of nightmare and lament: her nation invaded,
enemies on the rampage, bodies in piles,
slavery and abasement. Heaven swallowed the smoke. (ll. 3150-3155)

Beowulf's reign is over and someone else is going to come in and take over. It makes the whole story seem smaller, more personal. And yeah, Beowulf is primitive literature, but you go write an intimate epic and bring it back in your pocket and show it to me. Yeah, some anonymous poet from the 10th century (or thereabouts) just owned you.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I'm Captain Evil (and I'm General Disarray!)

Aaah! I had intended for this to be a longer and more thought-out entry, but I got caught up doing Actual Work and now it is already midnight. I should really give it up and go to bed, but I just finished this Tolkien paper, "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" (of which Wikipedia has a brief but accurate summary) and I wanted to mention a few things it brought to mind. Curse you, Norton Critical Editions, you and your large samplings of interesting and relevant critical material. Whatever. I'll sleep through the musical we're seeing tomorrow. (The plot summary of which reminds me of two different novels I read recently, and oh god, I'm already going off on tangents.)

Anyway. Tolkien. (I'll leave the
LOTR angle to Fiona, since it's not my department.)

He discusses
Beowulf in the context of its inevitable companions, the Aeneid and the Odyssey (apparently Beowulf used to be known as "the Beowulf"!); he considers the former a more appropriate counterpart, although he demurs on the question of whether Beowulf's author had read Virgil (I don't know if this question has been resolved since 1936, and if so, what the answer is; I'll investigate further):
There is, of course, a likeness in places between these greater and smaller things, the Aeneid and Beowulf, if they are read in conjunction. But the smaller points in which imitation or reminiscence might be perceived are inconclusive, while the real likeness is deeper and due to certain qualities in the authors independent of the question whether the Anglo-Saxon had read Virgil or not.... We have the great pagan on the threshold of the change of the world; and the great (if lesser) Christian just over the threshold of the great change in his time and place.... (p. 120).
In a footnote, Tolkien adds
In fact the real resemblance of the Aeneid and Beowulf lies in the constant presence of a sense of many-storied antiquity, together with its natural accompaniment, stern and noble melancholy. In this they are really akin and together differ from Homer's flatter, if more glittering, surface. (p. 120)
Ooh, burn. Seriously though, I did think of the Aeneid much more frequently than the Iliad (I haven't read the Odyssey yet, ok) while I was reading Beowulf, but I wasn't sure how much of that was because I read the Mandelbaum translation of the Aeneid and the Lattimore translation of the Iliad (mah hexameter, let me show u it). Lattimore's Iliad is very formal, whereas Mandelbaum's Aeneid and Heaney's Beowulf, neither of which attempts rigorously to adhere to the meter of its original, share -- perhaps partly as a result -- an immediacy and intensity that Lattimore's Iliad lacks. Since I have no Greek nor Latin nor Old English, I can't be sure which of all these qualities result from the poems as written and which are a consequence of their various translations. Tolkien's jab at "Homer's flatter, if more glittering, surface" would hint that at least some of this difference is inherent to the originals, but I just don't know.

One aspect of
Beowulf that did remind me of Homer was the epithets, but oh, SO MUCH BETTER. If you thought "Hector, breaker of horses" was a pretty sweet moniker, how about Grendel, "captain of evil" (l. 749)? And while we're on the topic of exciting nomenclature, let's not forget the line where Beowulf describes his sword as a "sharp-honed, wave-sheened wonderblade" (l. 1490). (Hey, baby... wanna see my wonderblade?)

Beowulf also contains my new favorite example of serious understatement. When Grendel is fighting Beowulf in Heorot, the hall where he (Grendel) has been murdering people every night for the past twelve years or so, Grendel begins to realize that he is losing: "The latching power/ in his fingers weakened; it was the worst trip/ the terror-monger had taken to Heorot" (ll. 763-65).

Yeah, the worst trip for sure. You know. The one where Beowulf rips off his arm, which injury shortly results in his agonizing death. Look, you guys, it was definitely way worse than those other trips where he just killed and ate a bunch of people and stuffed their remains into his dragon-skin pouch [Per Beowulf: "I had done no wrong, yet the raging demon/ wanted to cram me and many another/ into this bag" (ll. 2089-91)].

Oh dear. I have a lot else to say about Tolkien and Christianity and epithets and kennings (shield-clash! wave-vat! neck-ring! hate-honed! hall-roofing! bone-house!), but somehow I have been writing this post for well over an hour. More soon.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Daniel Donoghue: Academia and Guys Named Joe

I don't know a lot about academia. Before I went to Reed, the idea of going to graduate school had never even occurred to me. For that matter, the thought of getting my BA from a reasonably reputable institution hadn't occurred to me either (thanks, Mom). Now I'm scrambling to find out all the things about graduate education that it seems like everyone else already knows.

One thing I've noticed is that academia is definitely something of a guy-named-Joe situation. This is like what happens when you start dating a guy named Joe: suddenly you realize that half the people you meet are named Joe, and you'd never noticed it before. Similarly, once you become aware of the existence of some scholar, you see his name everywhere. There's nothing remarkable about this, I suppose--it's just a matter of paying attention to something that hadn't been on your radar before. But I was struck by the coincidence of happening to see this article immediately after I'd finished reading the Beowulf edited by Daniel Donoghue.

I am given to understand that, when considering graduate schools, it's important to know where various scholars are. So I'm going to try to start thinking about who's who in English academia.

Daniel Donoghue is a professor of medieval English studies at Harvard; he's also a "director of undergraduate studies," though I'm not sure just what that entails. His interests, per his faculty page, include "Old English and early Middle English literature; early historiography; the history of the English language; metrics and syntax; medievalism – or the reception of the Middle Ages today." He has written a book called Old English Literature: A Short Introduction and one entitled Lady Godiva: A Literary History of the Legend. He's the editor of Year's Work in Old English Studies. I also found this article in Harvard Magazine, entitled "Beowulf in the Yard."

I wish I could see where he went to school--it's good to keep track of these sorts of things--but I don't see a CV among these Google results. Oh well.

It's very unlikely that I will ever need to know any of these things about Daniel Donoghue. But it can't hurt to start somewhere, and perhaps these baby steps will help me overcome my terror of grad school.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

historical anecdotes are my calling, it seems

This is what our friend Clare's cat, Shark, thinks of Beowulf. Perhaps it is because he is a monster of the deep, and Beowulf dispatched a few of those.

This is certainly a testament to my hunger for anecdotes, but the story of the Beowulf manuscript! So no-one really knows where it came from or who wrote it, but they know it was part of the collection of one Robert Cotton upon his death in 1631.

(The best thing about this collection is the organization. Cotton kept a different bust on each bookshelf, and that was how he catalogued his books. So Beowulf was "Vitellius.A.xv," indicating its position on the first shelf on the bookcase decorated with a bust of Vitellius. When I am Librarian of Congress, I will be adopting this system.)

Anyway, the manuscript was living in Ashburnham House in Westminster in 1731 when there was a fire. Some manuscripts burned, and Beowulf's edges were scorched. Its snug leather covers saved it, and the trustees who broke into a burning library in order to throw books out of the windows and keep them safe.

Enough of this heroic firefighter fantasy. Give me a Beowulf-saving librarian any day.

So this stout little manuscript survives for at least 700 years before anyone even thinks to make a copy. Finally a man makes two transcripts and takes them to Copenhagen, where he prepares Beowulf for publication. Except, whoops, in 1807 the British bomb the city and burn his house down. Eventually Beowulf gets published in 1815.

Admittedly it's not as poetic as if a monster came out of the sea and ate the manuscript.

God-cursed Grendel

What do you think Grendel looks like? I never could get a good mental picture of him. I'm tempted to search the Internet for Grendel-art. I bet there's a bunch of it. I wish I still had access to JSTOR; I'm sure there's mountain of Grendel-specific criticism. It says that "...he had dwelt for a time/ in misery among the banished monsters,/ Cain's clan, whom the creator had outlawed/ and condemned as outcasts" (ll. 104-7).

The maddening vagueness of every physical description of Grendel -- "Every nail,/ claw-scale and spur, every spike/ and welt on the hand of that heathen brute/ was like barbed steel" (ll. 983-6)... yeah, thanks for clearing that up -- is exceeded only by the hopeless muddle that is the story's theological situation. The Danes are described as having "pagan shrines" and "vow[ing] offerings to idols" (175-6), and we are told that "the Lord God... was unknown to them" (ll. 181, 183). The narrator himself credits Beowulf's victory over Grendel to "the Lord/ the Ruler of Heaven" (ll. 1554-5), which is all very well and good, okay, because the narrator can be a Christian who is describing the events of pre-Christian times. But no. That would be too straightforward. BECAUSE THEN HROTHGAR GIVES THIS SPEECH. Explain to me how lines like these make sense:

...It is a great wonder
how Almighty God in His magnificence
favors our race with rank and scope
and the gift of wisdom; his sway is wide. (ll. 1724-27)

AND LEST YOU WONDER JUST WHICH GOD HE IS TALKING ABOUT, we get a little caution to Beowulf about being a Good Christian--though that word is never used:

Choose, dear Beowulf, the better part,
eternal rewards. Do not give way to pride. ...
...Your piercing eye
will dim and darken; and death will arrive,
dear warrior, to sweep you away. (ll. 1759-60; 1766-68)

And to finish off all that--

...So I praise God
in His heavenly glory that I lived to behold
this head dripping blood... (ll. 1178-80)

Even Beowulf himself says God helped him to defeat Grendel! So what is going on here? There's an essay in the Norton entitled "The Christian Language and Theme of Beowulf." I really hope it will help me figure out what is up with that. I'm so confused.


I forgot to mention the I am using the 2002 Norton Critical Edition of Beowulf, edited by Daniel Donoghue.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

canon fodder

It's true that we're in New York, but it's less true that we have other things to do, so I will take a few minutes to outline the goal of the Literary Iditarod:

I graduated from college in 2007, and now I have a job that I enjoy, but at some point I want to go to grad school so that I can feel like a more accomplished human being. I'd like to get a Ph.D in English, but right now I don't think that I have read widely enough either to do well on the lit GRE or to be sure of what I would like to study. Since I wrote my thesis on Troilus and Cressida, I tend to think I'd focus on the Renaissance, but I don't want to make any big decisions until I have a more thorough background in Western lit (Fiona wants to make me a t-shirt that says "CANON FODDER").

If I'd spent four years at Reed, I could've taken Humanities 210 and 220 and I would feel a lot better about all of this. But having transferred there as a junior, I had to narrow my focus pretty much immediately, and I never got what I would consider a solid foundation.

My former thesis advisor suggested that I spend some time catching up before I apply to graduate school, so Fiona and I put together a rough list of what I should read, and now we are starting with Beowulf. I read the first half of it on the bus coming up here. More on Beowulf shortly.

If you have suggestions about works that might prove useful for taking the literature GRE, or if you just have ideas about What Every English Major Should Have Read, please do contribute to our list. Or just talk to us about books. We're pretty nerdy that way.

Our Booklist

This is the list we're working from, and I would be witty about it but we're in New York and we have other things to do.

Please feel free to make suggestions on additions or favorite translations. Remember, our constraints: Beowulf through Virginia Woolf. Nothing really after, though I sneaked Lolita on there because it's important to me.

Edit: We stop at Virginia Woolf because the point of this is to get an education in the foundations of English-language literature, and because we only have so much time in our lives. And because Serena's advisor told her she could stop there.

Besides, how can you not love the fearful symmetry?

Original Booklist:
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
The Canterbury Tales
Piers Plowman
Le Morte d’Arthur
Ben Jonson's Elegy to Shakespeare
"Defense of Poesy"
Edward II
“The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”
The Tempest
Julius Caesar
Antony and Cleopatra
Romeo and Juliet
Much Ado About Nothing
The Merchant of Venice
As You Like It
The Sonnets
The Faerie Queen
John Donne's Holy Sonnets
John Donne's "Elegy 20"
John Donne's "The Bait"
John Donne's "The Flea"
Paradise Lost
“To His Coy Mistress”
“The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd”
The Way of the World
Pilgrim’s Progress
All for Love
The School for Scandal
The Rivals
"A Modest Proposal"
"A Description of a City Shower"
Gulliver’s Travels
Alexander Pope's “Rape of the Lock,”
Alexander Pope's "The Dunciad"
Alexander Pope's "Essay on Man"
Alexander Pope's "An Essay on Criticism"
Moll Flanders
Robinson Crusoe
James Boswell's The Life of Samuel Johnson
She Stoops to Conquer
The Vicar of Wakefield
Tom Jones
Tristam Shandy
Mary Shelley's “Vindication of the Rights of Women”
Vanity Fair
»Moby Dick (Annemarie suggested it!)
Samuel Coleridge's “Kublai Khan”
Samuel Coleridge's “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
Samuel Coleridge's “Frost at Midnight”
Sense and Sensibility
Childe Harold'd Pilgrimage
Don Juan
Wuthering Heights
Percy Shelley's “Ode to the West Wind”
Percy Shelley's “Defence of Poetry”
Percy Shelley's “Ozymandias”
Percy Shelley's “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty”
Walter Scott's “Marmion
Charles Lamb's Essays of Elia
Mysteries of Udolpho
Hard Times
Oliver Twist
Tale of Two Cities
John Keats' “To a Nightingale”
John Keats' “Ode on a Grecian Urn”
John Keats' “Fall of Hyperion”
William Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads
William Wordsworth's “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”
William Wordsworth's“I Wandered Lonely as Cloud”
Songs of Innocence and Experience
Marriage of Heaven and Hell
Mill on the Floss
Importance of Being Earnest
Picture of Dorian Gray
Elizabeth Barrett Browning's “Sonnets from the Portuguese”
Robert Browning's “My Last Duchess”
Robert Browning's “Fra Lippo Lippi”
Alfred Tennyson's “In Memoriam, AH.H.”
Alfred Tennyson's “Ulysses”
Alfred Tennyson's “Charge of the Light Brigade”
Alfred Tennyson's “Lady of Shalott
Jonathan Edwards' “Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God”
Anne Bradstreet's “A Dialogue Between Old England and New”
Anne Bradstreet's “To My Dear and Loving Husband”
Anne Bradstreet's “The Author to Her Book"
Anne Bradstreet's "Upon the Birth of One of Her Children”
Moby Dick
Bartleby the Scrivener
House of the Seven Gables
The Scarlet Letter
Twenty Days with Julian and Little Bunny
Emily Dickinson's “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”
Emily Dickinson's “I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died”
Emily Dickinson's “I Felt a Funeral In my Brain”
Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself"
Walt Whitman's “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking”
Walt Whitman's “Oh Captain, My Captain”
Diaries of Adam and Eve
Adventures of Huckberry Finn
Is Shakespeare Dead?
Margaret Fuller's “Women In the Nineteenth Century”
The Bostonians
Portrait of a Lady
Arms and the Man
»Yellow Wallpaper (Annemarie, this was a good one, and one I totally spaced)
Howard’s End
The House of Mirth
To the Lighthouse
A Room of One’s Own
Heart of Darkness
"The Dead"
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
D.H. Lawrence's “Why the Novel Matters”
W.B. Yeats' “When You Are Old”
W.B. Yeats' "Easter 1916"
W.B. Yeats' "Lake Isle of Innisfree"
W.B. Yeats' "The Second Coming"
W.B. Yeats' "Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop"
Langston Hughes' “The Negro Speaks of Rivers"
Langston Hughes' "I, Too"
Langston Hughes' "Mother to Son"
Langston Hughes' "Theme for English B"
T.S. Eliot's “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets"
T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland"
Robert Frost's “After Apple Picking”
Robert Frost's "Birches"
Robert Frost's "Design"
Robert Frost's "The Mending Wall"
A Moveable Feast
Hills Like White Elephants
The Snows of Kilimanjaro
This Side of Paradise
The Great Gatsby
The Sound and the Fury
“A Rose For Emily”
Mourning Becomes Electra
A Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Waiting for Godot
George Orwell's “Politics and the English Language”
Nineteen Eighty-Four
The Grapes of Wrath
The End of the Affair
W.H. Auden's "Funeral Blues"
W.H. Auden's "The More Loving One"
W.H. Auden's "Epitaph on a Tyrant"
W.H. Auden's "September 1, 1939"
W.H. Auden's “In Memory of W.B. Yeats”
Ezra Pound's “In a Station of the Metro”
Matthew Arnold's “Dover Beach”
Wilfred Owen's “Dulce Et Decorum Est”
Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Love Is Not All"
Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Conscientious Objector"
Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Time Offers No Relief"
Edna St. Vincent Millay's "I Will Put Chaos Into 14 Lines"
Dylan Thomas' “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”
Dylan Thomas' “A Child’s Christmas In Wales”
Brave New World

Recent Additions Since We Decided To Read Things Not Originally In English:
The Divine Comedy
The Oresteia
The Persians
Notes from the Underground
Crime and Punishment
Madame Bovary
Death in Venice
Rilke (TBA)