ricardienne: (tacitus)
So I started Pierce Brown'a Red Rising -- basically, it's as if Brown read the Hunger Games and thought, "you know what this needs? More gritty manly realism and more angsty chosen-one manpain. Let me take care of that." Our hero is a young, hardworking everyman "Red" (ie low-caste) in a hardscrabble mining colony in District 12 on Mars in a future that uses classical names for everything; when his beloved wife is executed for a simple act of defiance, he falls in with The Rebellion and learns that Everything The Government Tells Us Is a Lie: Mars has been terraformed for centuries, and while his people labor in slavery beneath the surface, the ruling elites of the Capitol the Gold caste lead lives of absurd excess.

Where I am right now, our hero is undergoing a process of having his body remade into that of a Gold so that he can infiltrate the Hunger Games the academy where the sons and daughters of the elite fight it out in brutal game of survival of the fittest in order to determine who dies and who goes on the be the next generation of Ruthlessly Evil Overlords of Mars. Okay, yes, it's terrible, and I am really annoyed that the whole plot is motivated by manpain over the Death Of My Beloved, My Angel, The Gentle Light of My Life Whose Beauty and Inner Strength Made Life Worth Living. But (a) the writing isn't awful and (b) I have an obligation to read all the terrible faux-Rome sff.

Anyway, there was this paragraph:
“My body is not all that changes. Before I sleep, I drink a tonic laden with processing enhancers and speed-listen to The Colors, The Iliad, Ulysses, Metamorphosis, the Theban plays, The Draconic Labels, Anabasis, and restricted works like The Count of Monte Cristo, Lord of the Flies, Lady Casterly’s Penance, 1984, and The Great Gatsby. I wake knowing three thousand years of literature and legal code and history.” (ch. 12)


So...a mix of "classics" and made-up "future classics", but I don't get the narrative that they are trying to tell -- apart from the fact that, uh, I guess the only books that survived into the future were the contents of an American high school English classroom? This kind of passage seems like a great place to briefly tell a narrative what this future-evil-privileged society values and fears. Apart from the fact that I don't trust the author enough to be sure that when he says "Ulysses" he means James Joyce and not the Odyssey (ditto for Metamorphosis: Kafka's Die Verwandlung or Ovid's Metamorphoses?), I don't really get what this set of texts is supposed to do: the Iliad and Anabasis makes a certain kind of sense as classics for a military elite; I suspect that (the?) Metamorphoses(?) is a nod to the transformations that the elite of this society undergo to become superhuman (but...I'm pretty sure that either Ovid's or Kafka's would be on the "restricted" list as far as messages about metamorphosis and society and the fate of the human when s/he is forcibly transformed by (unjust) power structures. Ditto Sophocles. For fuck's sake. Have any of these people read the Antigone?). The Odyssey is probably there because this is all about our hero's love for his wife.

However, I think that overall, these are pretty terrible lists to represent a ruthless, power-hungry, corrupt class of Rome-emulating rulers. Where the fuck is Thucydides? Where's Machiavelli? Where's Ayn Rand? HOW CAN YOU HAVE REALPOLITIK WITHOUT THUCYDIDES? (and where's Tacitus? How can you have imperial Rome without Tacitus. YOU CAN'T.) Where's Lucan? I bet this society would love Lucan. And, of course, let's not even ask why this is completely euro-centric reading list.

I also think that one could be cleverer with the whole "restricted reading" list, although it hangs together a bit (themes of dystopia, Hobbesian excess, and revenge). I mean, 1984, Lord of the Flies...can you be more cliched? Put some real protest writing or anti-injustice writing on there. Make a more explicit allusion to your antecedent of the Hunger Games (wouldn't that be clever?) Or put the Aeneid (!!!!!). When I write a trashy ya dystopia novel about a futuristic oligarchy that models itself on Rome, remind me to throw in an aside about how the Aeneid is a deeply subversive and restricted text because of Vergil's problematization of empire and ambivalence about power. We'll call it The Revenge of the Harvard School.
ricardienne: (york)
Failing at Nat'l Poetry Month, failing at school, failing at life. But. THIS POEM. (caveats: publication date 1948; casual racist and misogynist language & unfortunate implications; human sacrifice.)

Falling Asleep over the Aeneid
BY ROBERT LOWELL
An old man in Concord forgets to go to morning service. He falls asleep, while reading Vergil, and dreams that he is Aeneas at the funeral of Pallas, an Italian prince. [cf. Aeneid 11.29-99]

The sun is blue and scarlet on my page,
And yuck-a, yuck-a, yuck-a, yuck-a, rage
The yellowhammers mating. Yellow fire
Blankets the captives dancing on their pyre,
And the scorched lictor screams and drops his rod.
Trojans are singing to their drunken God,
Ares. Their helmets catch on fire. Their files
Clank by the body of my comrade— miles
Of filings! Now the scythe-wheeled chariot rolls
Before their lances long as vaulting poles,
And I stand up and heil the thousand men,
Who carry Pallas to the bird-priest. Then
The bird-priest groans, and as his birds foretold,
I greet the body, lip to lip. I hold
The sword that Dido used. It tries to speak,
A bird with Dido’s sworded breast. Its beak
Clangs and ejaculates the Punic word
I hear the bird-priest chirping like a bird. )
ricardienne: (tacitus)
Vergil quote on the 9/11 memorial is the line about glorifying the deaths of rash passionate young men who launch a brutal sneak attack and get killed in the process.
ricardienne: (Default)
So I'm reading Virgil out of my 1840 Cooper's Virgil, where the "study questions" are based entirely on the one-paragraph introductions to each eclogue and the copious and fairly irrelevant notes. One gets the impression that the most important thing to get out of Virgil's eclogues is the classification of different kinds of nymphs. But I digress. Mr. Cooper's commentary is equally amusing in its determination to find one to one "historical" analogues for every single character. Virgil, of course, features in every eclogue (except for IV, because that one is All About Jesus, even though Virgil didn't quite know it). In the fifth, two shepherds lament the death and celebrate the apotheosis of a particularly wonderful and talented youth/poet/shepherd. Obviously this is actually about Julius Caesar (disclosure: I am not averse to reading political/historical allusion into Virgil. Just not, you know, on an allegorical "X actually is A" level.)

This produces some entertaining glosses, such as, on the line
cum complexa sui corpus miserabile nati
atque deos atque astra vocat crudelia mater
(When, embracing the pitiable body of her son, his mother calls both gods and stars cruel): "Cerdanus understands by mater the wife of Caesar, who a little before his death dreamed her husband was stabbed in her breast." I mean, we all know that Caesar's mother was quite influential in his upbringing and life, but… that influential? Oh Virgil, you naughty poet.

Also, amusingly, in the 1920's, D.L. Drew ("Virgil's Fifth Eclogue: A Defence of the Julius Caesar-Daphnis Theory", CQ vol. 16 no. 2) argues that "mother" must be a code-word for either Venus or Roma (both indeed more plausible than Calpurnia) and therefore point to Julius Caesar because mothers do not belong in Pastorals:
For what has a mourning matron to do with a Daphnis? Another step and the local attorney would be there and the family doctor to follow. At such a deathbed we admit nymphs and fauns and Venuses, even Aesculapius -- anything, almost, rather than a mother, who is human.
I was extremely tempted to present the quote without the last three words, but that, I suppose would have been tendentious. And I suppose that given that Daphnis = archetypical Shepherd prince, it is maybe odd to have the intrusion of a mother (although, seriously, it isn't as though mourning women aren't a rather standard topos). On the other hand, given that the movement is from death (i.e. mortal, human) to apotheosis (i.e. divine, mythical) having a human mother show up early to mourn serves that very well, whether D. merely evokes Caesar, is independent of Caesar, or *actually is* Caesar.

And -- April is Poetry month and Springtime Happiness month, so this post is Entirely Relevant. All it needs is a link to the poem itself (translation by Dryden; it's on page 429, if the link doesn't bring you right to the "fifth pastoral".)
ricardienne: (Default)
So, [livejournal.com profile] angevin2's post about Middleton inspired me to start reading The Phoenix. I wish I had known that there was a whole genre of 'disguised-ruler' plays when I was in middle school and making do with Arabian Nights and Measure for Measure

And then I started to think, wouldn't a disguised-ruler story about Augustus be awesome? I sort of think that there must be one somewhere, and it seems like something sort of familiar, but googling didn't turn up any references.

I started reading the Eclogues today, finally. I find immediately that Virgil writing pastoral Augustan poetry is much more palatable that Horace writing same. It's so interesting that the First Eclogue is a dialogue and that it's a dialogue about benefiting vs. not from Augustus in power. On the one hand, how obvious is that? On the other hand, there are really two things (at least) going on. There's the main problem of Meliboeus losing his land, while Tityrus has managed to hang on to his by the favor of the God, and there's the issue of Meliboeus having bad luck anyway: ewes yeaning (I just learned this word) their lambs onto rocks and generally not doing well. And the "god" who controls that kind of luck, and maybe the other kind, too, to a certain extent, is Rome (vs. Mantua). M. asks who this amazing new god is,* and T. starts rambling about Rome, and talking about how whenever he used to sacrifice lambs and cheese to Mantua, he never had any luck and wasn't even free. Only later it turns out that the real god is the youth who heard his petition. It's paradoxical: abandoning your native territory and your allegiances to it, and being subsumed into the dominant city is what makes you free and successful -- and still in possession of your native territory.

The opposition is also not smoothed away at all between the fortunes of T. and M. I hesitate to say, "Virgil is pointing out a serious/fundamental injustice/problem with the Augustan regime/project" but I am sort of inclined that way. T. has a nifty adynata about how the Parthians will trade places (geography again!) with the Germans before his faith in his new god will waver, but then M. points out that those Italians like him bereft of their patrimony will be wandering to Africa and Scythia and Crete and Britain: suddenly the adynata seems rather more dynata.

Thirdly, since I am getting lonely and slightly depressive and maudlin, this is such a freaking sad poem. I think that Meliboeus' last speech is one of my favorite bits of speech from anywhere. The so-careful and perfect description of his his fairly meager farm, matching the work he has put into his land, the despair that he has lost it all, even though it wasn't doing very well anyway, and that for him the pastoral life is going to end. I don't read the end as any kind of permanent good: T. offers a night of rest and meal, but probably only to set him on his way. And then the sun is setting, and everything is ending. (Okay, so it's probably time for me to go to bed, then, if this is how I'm going to be.)

*Incidentally, there's a 3rd century Christian conversion poem more or less based on this, except that the god who will help you out of all of your agricultural problems is the Christian god.)
ricardienne: (Default)
I can't decide whether to buy Frederick Ahl's Aeneid or not. I was tempted, just because his essay on figured speech was one of the great things I read last semester, and I liked the excerpt on Amazon. I also like that he's doing a long line and trying to get the rolling feel of Vergil. But do I really need another copy? Maybe I'll wait until there are more used ones around.

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