Sir Francis Bacon

Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtle; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend.

--Of Studies--

From Bleeding to Brooding

I started Crime and Punishment today, even though I didn't get half way through the Iliad. Normally I would never flout the Schedule so openly, but I have simply had enough of my particularly abysmal translation.

I bought the book because I liked the Odyssey, more accurately a late 19th century translation thereof, and imagined that buying from the same publisher would yield a book of similar quality. I was wrong. My brother warned me of the peril of buying thrift editions. I ended up with a early 20th century translation that makes several grievous, systematic, and unapologetic offenses on my opinion of the degree of liberty a translator should have when interpreting a story.

Offense number one. The translator, in his infinite wisdom, decided to replace all of the Greek names for their roman equivalents. If I'm going to read the Iliad, I want to hear about the Greeks, not the Romans. If I want to hear about the Romans I'll read Cicero. Yes, they are essentially equivalent, and yes, I could have survived without the Greek names. It's just irritating.

Offense number two. He decided to take a plethora of the ancient Greek phrases and insert what he perceived to be their twentieth century equivalents. Everyone who has ever been in a high school English class will know that filling your work with cliches does not make for a very engaging story. No, I'm not even going to throw a cliche in there to prove my point. That is also cliche. The worst part is I have no idea what Homer actually said, and half the fun in reading an ancient text is learning how people used to speak.

A possible three, call it two point five, would be that he doesn't include all the epithets. I know they're there, I read the Odyssey. For those of you in the blogosphere who have no idea what I'm talking about, an epithet is a word or phrase that precedes a character's name to provide description. They were used abundantly in Homer's Odyssey and Iliad because the original Greek is in verse, not prose, so epithets were used to correct the metering. Some examples: clear-eyed Athena, god-like Odysseus, rosy-fingered Dawn (who is more than once personified in this manner), and my personal favourite, Aegis-bearing Zeus. Don't paraphrase/disperse the epithets! They are important!

The book was also getting a bit onerous to read, because for pages and pages you see nothing but detailed accounts of the gruesome deaths of every single soldier who died. I'm sure it picks up later on, but it is not unusual for me to pick at Homer. Homer is my Brussels sprouts. I know I have to read him, and I do, but in manageable pieces.

At any rate, I cast aside my Greek epic (at least momentarily), and pick up Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Having only read the introduction and the first chapter at the time this post was published, I can assure more detailed and interesting posts to follow.

Some months ago, I was in a bookstore, and saw a copy of Crime and Punishment sitting innocuously in the bargain bin. Having heard of the story (who hasn't?) and wondering what the fuss was about, I read the first page. I came to the instant conclusion that I must at some point read this book. That day has come. The first page was better than I remember it, and the rest of the first chapter was pretty good too.

I also read the introduction, which was informative but left me slightly apprehensive. I seem to have stumbled upon a multi-layered, multifaceted work of artistic genius that penetrates deep into the brooding soul of humanity. It was all a bit too ostentatious for me, I was more interested in Dostoevsky's political and philosophical leanings. The turning point in his life, as I gather, was spending ten years in prison for fostering anti-governmental sentiment. Before that he was a liberal-minded writer, pro-communist, and enjoyed arguing with people about their political opinions. shortly after being released from prison he wrote a book entitled "Notes from the Underground." I gather it was a condemning satire of everything, including itself, and a stab at rationalist thought. One quote they quoted which I now quote: "Two times two is four is no longer life, gentlemen, but the beginning of death."

I have another book on my shelf that is of similar opinion. It is called "Voltaire's Bastards", by John Ralston Saul, and it is essentially a criticism of the entirety of western society for the last five hundred years. More on that when I start reading it again, which, I'll be honest, might be a while. It's another one of those sorts of books I pick at now and then. To be fair though, the thing is a monster (in terms of length and density of text).

By the way, here is your word of the day:
Polemic(puh-'lem-ik)- noun - A controversial argument, or, one who takes up a controversial argument.

"Notes form the Underground" echoed itself in just about everything Dostoevski wrote from that point on. Crime and Punishment was originally a grand argument against the Nihilists. He later revised it (i.e., used his first draft for kindling) and it transcended his somewhat dubious philosophical debates.

Crime and Punishment, in case you hadn't heard, is a murder mystery told from the perspective of the murderer. What makes it interesting is that the murder is as mysterious to the murderer (if not more) than it is to everyone else.

Should be a good book.

1 comment:

  1. A very astute teacher assigned Crime and Punishment to me in high school. That book has stuck with me ever since. I can't hear mention of St. Petersburg without recalling Raskalnikov, Sonya, that cramped garret, and the bridge over the Neve. Dostoevski also wrote a short novel about his prison experience titled The House of the Dead. He had a kind of near-death experience before shipping out to the prison camp. He and some other prisoners were led out to be executed, then at the last moment, they were told their sentence had been commuted to a term in the prison camp. I always wondered if the Czar thought that was some kind of joke. Experiences like that are bound to give you a new perspective on life.