Monday, December 20, 2004

Seven Famous Greek Plays

Including Prometheus Bound and Agamemnon by Aeschylus, Oedipus the King and Antigone by Sophocles, Alcestis and Medea by Euripides, and The Frogs by Aristophanes.

I think Antigone was my favorite. This is the story of a sister, Antigone, who defies the mandate of her king, Creon, and gives the corpse of her brother a decent burial. Creon prohibits anyone from doing so, allowing the brother’s corpse, Polyneices, to lay exposed in the sun to be eaten by wild dogs and maggots, because he had risen in insurrection against his other brother, Eteocles, who was then king. Both brothers died in the battle, leaving Creon sitting on the vacant throne. Antigone disobeys Creon’s command and is put to death as punishment, which for Creon only results in the death of his own son, Haemon, who was betrothed to Antigone, and his wife, Eurydice, both a result of suicide over the grief of losing one so dear to them. The lesson, of course, is that there is a natural law that supercedes the law of earthly rulers, and those who brazenly oppose it will suffer the consequences.

Why do I like it? Apart from the dialogue being the most readable to my modern and untrained eyes, it does a really good job of making the larger point, of illustrating the moral of the story, through the simple interplay of characters going through the mechanics of the story. The message is not heavy-handed, but it is clearly there for all to see.

Another thing I’m dying to know. When verse is translated from a foreign language into English, how much do they change the meaning to make sure it rhymes? I mean, the same words that rhyme in Greek won’t necessarily rhyme in English, so if the verse rhymed in Greek, how did they get it to rhyme in English without changing it? Wouldn’t it be better to just translate it word for word and not worry about making it rhyme?

Saturday, December 11, 2004

The First American by H. W. Brands

Gosh, it took me a long time to read this book. Some days I was lucky to get ten pages read. Having two kids is really starting to eat into my free time. It was a good read, I just wish I could remember the stuff in the first hundred pages.

Here’s something I do remember from the last hundred pages. Our bicameral legislature was one of the great compromises of the Constitutional Convention. The small states wanted representation by state and the big states wanted representation by population, so we get the House with one Representative per 10,000 people and the Senate with two Senators per state. Another great compromise was that a slave would count as three-fifths a person when calculating how many representatives a state got.

The first American, by the way, was Benjamin Franklin, and this was a biography of his life and times. And quite a life it was. The most famous person in the world during his lifetime and part of every major step in the birth of the American nation. On the committee that wrote the Declaration of Independence, chief negotiator charged with gaining France as an ally, co-chair (with George Washington) of the Constitutional Convention.

One of the most interesting things about him, of course, was how staunch a loyalist Briton he was until he was publicly humiliated in front of Parliament. Seeing first hand how the sickness of political corruption worked there, he decided that America’s destiny lay elsewhere, and dedicated himself from that point onward to its separation from Britain. His son William stayed loyal—he was the Royal Governor of New Jersey—and the two never saw eye to eye again. May not have even seen each other again except for a brief meeting in England after the war when William had moved back to the mother country and Ben was on his last trip home from France. There’s a story in there somewhere.

When the natural weakness and imperfection of human understanding is considered, with the unavoidable influences of education, custom, books and company, upon our ways of thinking, I imagine a man must have a good deal of vanity who believes, and a good deal of boldness who affirms, that all the doctrines he holds, are true, and all he rejects, are false.
Benjamin Franklin