Parnassus by Andrea Mantegna. 1497
Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hesiod and Theognis

The image is Parnassus by Andrea Mantegna. The central portion of the painting is the cover image of the older Penguin edition. They’ve evidently replaced it with a new image while retaining the same translation.

It’s unusual to find that I actually knew the translator of a book in my possession. Since I’ve been out of grad school, and failed to find a teaching job, I don’t travel in academic circles anymore. The good thing about that is that it leaves me free to insult big names without knowing or caring that they’re big names. In the case of Dorothea Wender, I have fairly decent memories of her, so I doubt if I’ll be insulting her.

I had Dorothea Wender, the translator of the volume under discussion, for 1st year Latin back in 1964–5, and I think one or two other classes as well. Since I was a freshman, I was fairly young (19), and dumb and ignorant, and though I didn’t do terribly well, I think she was more tolerant of me than I would be.

I think she left GW around 1966 or so, and I heard that she had a stroke. I think there was an article in some woman’s magazine about that, and that she had to start relearning Greek and Latin. I recall running into some people who knew her back in 1989 or so, but I never saw her again after she left GW.

A few months ago I bought some used books at Riverby’s in Fredericksburg, and I picked up some Penguins, including Hesiod and Theognis. When I finally got around to looking at the volume, I saw that she was the translator. I Googled her, and thought about sending her an e-mail after all these years. Then I saw that she had died in 2003. A copy of her obituary in the Boston Globe can be found here.

So I’ll be reading Hesiod and Theognis for a few days.

Update. October 21, 2008—Hesiod and Theognis sped on by fairly fast.

Theogony—This is a poem about the Greek gods, and it should be more thrilling than it is. Dr. Wender is right in pointing out that it contains terrific material, but the stuff, battles of Gods and Titans, and similar material, that should be most thrilling is given cursory treatment. Hesiod is big on catalogs, particularly of nymphs, but other than filling out the line metrically why do we get:

“And Nereus and Doris, lovely-haired
Daughter of Oceanus&hellip.” (241-2)


“Protho, Eukrante, Sao, Amphitrite,
Eudore, Thetis, Galene, Glauce, and
Cymothoe, Speio, and quick Thalia,
And lovely Pasithea, Erato and
Eunike with her rosy arms, and fair

Why are Thalia, Pasithea, Eunike, and Melite singled out by their adjectives? I suspect that the adjectives are for metrical padding to make a dactylic hexameter. (The original Greek is dactylic hexameter, Dr. Wender has translated it into iambic pentameter.)

Works and Days—This may or may not be the work of the same poet who wrote the Theogony. In any case both are attributed to Hesiod. Works and Days is addressed to the poet’s brother Perses (not to be confused with Perseus). It’s not particularly thrilling, since it is largely moral advice, but it is a bit more poetic than Theogony.

Interestingly, there is a five line segment at about 293 that is reminiscent of Machiavelli says about the three kinds of men (Prince, 22).

“That man is best who reasons for himself,
Considering the future. Also good
Is he who takes another’s good advice.
But he who neither thinks himself nor learns
From others, is a failure as a man.”

Theognis, Elegies—These are relatively short poems, and many were directed to Kurnos a friend, and possibly lover, of Theognis. The poems from 1231 on are homosexual in nature, and are addressed to one or more young boys with whom Theognis was involved.

One verse, which seems to belong to Solon, is reminiscent of the sentiment attributed to Christopher Marlowe “Them that love not tobacco and boys are fools.” The poet says on the subject of boys:

“That man is never happy who does not
Love dogs and smooth-hoved horses and young men.” [1255-6]

Now at this point I can pretty much hear some of the people to whom I send notices about this blog, but who probably never read it, or at least never tell me they read it, saying, “But how about disapproving of homosexuality, which is contrary to God’s law?” Okay, my position on homosexuality is the same as the Church’s position. In this blog though I’m not preaching about anything. I’m pretty much doing basic exposition in a lot of cases. When I quote Marlowe’s remark, I don’t agree with the sentiments, though I do find them amusing.

Next up, either Three Jacobean Tragedies (John Webster, The White Devil; Cyril Tourneur, The Revenger’s Tragedy; Thomas Middleton, The Changeling), or Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. I’ve had the Jacobean volume lying around in the office for a couple of years, and I don’t recall if I’ve read it. If it seems familiar, I’ll move on to Ariosto.