Greek & Latin Literary Narratives

Extollager

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This is a thread for the discussion of literature from ancient Greece and the Roman world. The literature intended is that which tells mythological or fictional stories. The thread thus omits lyrical poetry, works classified today as histories, oratory, geography, philosophy, trials, etc. Please take note!

I'd like the advice of knowledgeable Chrons folk first off about core or basic or "essential" works. After we get a handle on that, I'd be interested in nominations of lesser-known works. I'm not very knowledgeable about these things.

What I anticipate is that we'll begin by identifying great poems, plays, and perhaps precursors of the novel. Recommendations for English translations would be welcome, warnings about bad translations, etc.

I get to pick some low-hanging fruit as we look at core works -- works widely known, widely esteemed.

GREEK

Hesiod: Theogony -- presents various myths
Homer: Iliad, Odyssey -- I understand that Fagles's Iliad and Fitzgerald's Odyssey are good
Apollonius Rhodius: Argonautica (Voyage of the Argo) -- about Jason

Sophocles: Theban Plays, including Oedipus the King
Euripides: Hippolytus, Helen, etc.
Aristophanes: Various plays, such as The Birds, Lysistrata, &c.

Longus: Daphnis and Chloe

LATIN

Virgil/Vergil: Aeneid -- Humphries is said to be good
Ovid: Metamorphoses
Apuleius: Metamorphoses aka The Golden Ass -- recently translated by Sarah Ruden

As an example of a work that might not belong in a list of core works, but that might be appropriate to mention later, after the core is established, I'd nominate The Greek Alexander Romance.
 
t-C, Don, thank you. That those things didn't occur to me is an indication of my lack of knowledge of the subject -- which I mean to ameliorate a bit by what I learn here. But I haven't read everything I listed, and, of what I did list, most are things I read a long time ago.
 
Guttersnipe, has that work been translated in a reasonably accessible version any time in recent decades? I saw what looks like a very pricey rendering from an academic publisher, but maybe you've seen something hoi polloi could turn to -- ?
 
Guttersnipe, has that work been translated in a reasonably accessible version any time in recent decades? I saw what looks like a very pricey rendering from an academic publisher, but maybe you've seen something hoi polloi could turn to -- ?
There are several recent translations, by Daryl Hine, A.E. Stallings, etc.
 
OK, thanks, everyone. If there are any further nominations for core fictional narratives, send them on, please. A friend mentioned:

---Menander and Plautus, just to see what has happened in late Greek & then in Roman theater after the great age of Greek drama.
 
But maybe we can go ahead now to identify fictional narratives that are not core -- interesting, enjoyable, but not "essential." The friend whom I just mentioned remarked, "I wouldn't include Apollonius of Rhodes. It's simply not essential. There are so many better things you could read instead."

I mentioned The Greek Alexander Romance as a non-core work of fictitious narrative, but that seemed to me still to possess some interest. (There are Two Trees in it that miiight have influenced Tolkien...)
 
The friend whom I just mentioned remarked, "I wouldn't include Apollonius of Rhodes. It's simply not essential. There are so many better things you could read instead."

Apollonius of Rhodes presents the most complete form of the Argonaut myth. There may be better reads out there, but if we're judging on pleasure rather than completeness then we may as well eject Hesiod. :D
 
Haven't read the Argonautica myself, can't say, but I do have a copy of the Penguin translation.
 
I re-read The Golden Ass last month and am doing the same with The Satyricon right now.
Interesting thing with The Golden Ass is how magic is normal in the society--it's also a lucrative business. Your neighbor might be a witch selling potions and charms.
 
There is one more text I'd add to the core: Catullus 64. (Other than that, I think we've got all the basics.) No one will deny the centrality of Catullus to Roman poetry, I think, but the objection would be that he's a lyrical, not narrative poet. However, 64 is a narrative poem, and the central text for centuries for depictions of the story of Bacchus and Ariadne. Also, crucially, it's what later was called an "epyllion," or "little epic," a short(ish) narrative poem. While there's nothing short about the Iliad, the Odyssey, or the Aeneid, it has been argued that the Metamorphoses is essentially a bunch of epyllia artfully strung together, and I think that's an excellent way of understanding it. There are also a couple of epyllia in Theocritus -- who, again, may not be read much now, but who was central as an influence both to the Roman tradition, and to much of post-Renaissance literature.

BTW, to support my choice of Horace Gregory for the Metamorphoses: other translations may be more literal (Melville, Mandelbaum), but God, they're boring. Others are more freewheeling and too in love with their cleverness (Slavitt). But Gregory's is actual poetry, which is what Ovid deserves.

Ezra Pound thought that Golding ("Shakespeare's Ovid") was the most beautiful book in the English language; I can only attribute this to a perverse desire to be contrary. Those fourteeners are so chock-full with filler words, that they're a pain to read. I wish Shakespeare had gone through it and cut down all those fourteeners to iambic pentameters: that might make it worth reading.

Oh, and the Dryden et al. translation is quite fun to read too, if only for short stretches.
 
Would anyone care to review the works mentioned so far and, if specific translations haven't been recommended, suggest ones that you are confident are good? (Thank you, t-C, much appreciated.)
 
I have a bit of Latin, so I like the Roman poets in the Loeb bilingual editions. Other than that, Fitzgerald's has long been seen as an excellent translation of the Aeneid. For pretty much anything Greek that he translated, I like Fagles. (And I would stick to the same translator for the Iliad and the Odyssey.)

But generally, reading more than one translation is always a good idea.
 
Looking on my shelf:

Argonautica: Peter Green
The Golden Ass: Robert Graves
I only have the Satyricon in the Loeb.
 
A werewolf story appears in THE SATYRICON.
Earliest I have come across.

I have read the Fagles and the Lattimore translations of the Iliad. The latter was for school. A teacher I had said we should learn Greek just to read Homer in its best form--he mentioned John Milton taught his daughters to read Greek (so they could recite it to him) but not to understand it.

The mythology dictionary recommended to us was the Meridian Handbook of Classical Mythology by Edward Tripp.
 

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