Archive for May, 2010

Hipponax and after

May 31, 2010

Hipponax of Ephesus

Hipponax of Ephesus lived around the middle of the 6th century BC and has the following ascribed to him:

δύ’ ἡμέραι γυναικός εἰσιν ἥδισται,
ὅταν γαμῇ τις κἀφέρῃ τεθνηκυῖαν.

(Two days of a woman [‘s life] are sweetest/When one marries her and when one carries her out dead.)

This idea was then taken up by Palladas of Alexandria (fourth century AD) as:

Πᾶσα γυνὴ χόλος ἐστίν· ἔχει δ᾽ δύω ὥρας,
τὴν μίαν ἐν θαλάμῳ, τὴν μίαν ἐν θανάτῳ.

(Every woman is bitter; she has two [good] hours/Once in bed and once when dead.)

This is item 11.183 in the Greek Anthology. It turns up as the epigraph to the novella Carmen (1845) by Prosper Mérimée, from which followed the regrettable opera by Bizet.  As well as being keen on classical antiquity (and Spain),  Mérimée was about the first to introduce Russian literature to France.

Prosper Mérimée (1803-1870)

His Russian contemporary Vladimir Dal’ published his Proverbs of the Russian People in 1862, and it contains the following:

Дважды жена мила бывает: как в избу введут да как вон понесут.

(A wife is sweet twice: when they lead her into your hut [in marriage] and when they carry her away [dead].)

Vladimir Dal' (1801-1872)

Greek Drama (perhaps) in June (perhaps) and July

May 31, 2010

I think they mean June

The Theatro Technis Facebook page is advertising ‘The Phoenician Women’ for 23-27 June–that’s not quite what the poster says, but never mind.  This production has yet to appear on their website.

Masks--classy!

Meanwhile, there will be performances of Hotel Medea: An Overnight Experience on July 16, 17, 23, 24, 30, 31.  It is described as A site-specific performance leaving by boat from the QEII Pier at the O2 (North Greenwich).  Ticketing details  here. Violence, nudity, staying up all night and unsuitable for children–sounds like it’s just meant for me.

I wonder what original source they used–which is worse out of Euripides and Apollonius Rhodius?

Sir, one does not dispute the precedency between a flea and a louse.

Greek Lyric Poetry Madingley Hall 28-30 May

May 30, 2010

This course was based on Campbell’s Greek Lyric Poetry (shown above);  since I had owned the book for 28 years without making any use of it I thought I would give the course a try.  In the event, there were eight of us (of whom three were still working for a living) under the direction of Tony Verity.  We had six 90-minute sessions of read-translate-discuss and one evening lecture from a visiting lecturer (Dr Renaud Gagné). And we also had one modern Greek poem in honour of our Modern Greek course member, who had come all the way from Modern Greece to be with us (and visit her son in London).

Those of us who were still working for a living did feel that there was slightly too much general discussion and slightly too little engagement with the specific texts.  I think the most popular items were the longer fragments of Sappho and also a folk-song that was nice and simple.

The participants in the other Advanced Greek course, who had been studying ‘Everyday Greek’ in the form of letters excavated from the Oxyrhynchus rubbish tip were certainly well content.  I think that both of these (letters and lyrics) were deviations from what is normally done on these courses, and the letters were the more successful.

And here with great pedantry is what we covered:

Greek Lyric Poetry ed. David Campbell. Bristol Classical Press

Archilochus 1, 2, 6,7 , 22, 25,60, 66, 103, 104, 112, [if time, 196A]

Tyrtaeus 9

Semonides 1

Alcman 26

Mimnermus 1,2

Solon 5, 10, 13,24

Sappho 1, 2, 31, 47, 94[1-17], 96, 105a, 105c, 130, Fr.Adesp. 976

Alcaeus 326,332,346,347,357, 333

lbycus 286,287

Anacreon 348, 358, 359, 360, 395,413,417

Xenophanes 2,10, 13, 18

Theognis 39-68, 237-54

Hipponax Frag.Adesp.

Simonides 581, 83d, 92d, 99d, 121d, 135d, 122d

Carm. Pop. 848

Scolia 884, 887, 893, 894

Here, italics mean that we didn’t actually cover it; conversely bold means we covered it even though it wasn’t on the original list.

And here’s Η ξανθούλα (by Dionysios Solomos, regarded as the first poet of modern Greece):

Την είδα την ξανθούλα,
την είδα ‘ψες αργά
που εμπήκε στη βαρκούλα
να πάει στην ξενιτιά.

Εφούσκωνε τ’ αέρι
λευκότατα πανιά
ωσάν το περιστέρι
που απλώνει τα φτερά.

Εστέκονταν οι φίλοι
με λύπη με χαρά
κι αυτή με το μαντίλι
τους αποχαιρετά.

Και το χαιρετισμό της
εστάθηκα να ειδώ,
ως που η πολλή μακρότης
μου το ‘κρυψε κι αυτό.

Σ’ ολίγο, σ’ ολιγάκι
δεν ήξερα να πω
αν έβλεπα πανάκι
ή του πελάγου αφρό.

Και αφού πανί, μαντίλι
εχάθη στο νερό
εδάκρυσαν οι φίλοι
εδάκρυσα κ’ εγώ.

Δεν κλαίγω για τη βαρκούλα
δεν κλαίγω τα πανιά
μόν’ κλαίγω την Ξανθούλα
που πάει στην ξενιτιά.

Δεν κλαίγω τη βαρκούλα
με τα λευκά πανιά
μόν’ κλαίγω την Ξανθούλα
με τα ξανθά μαλλιά.

(Performances here.)

Molotov’s Magic Lantern (Rachel Polonsky)

May 23, 2010

**

The idea of this book is that the author lives in or visits various places in Moscow and Russia as a whole and tells us about their literary and historical associations.  So we visit various locations on Romanov Lane (in the centre of Moscow)–including the flat where Vyacheslav Molotov lived, naturally enough–the Sandunovskaya bathhouse, the Academy of Sciences ‘colony’ at Lutsino, Mozzhinka (a similar place nearby), Novgorod, Staraya Russa (where The Brothers Karamazov is set), Rostov-on-Don, Taganrog, Vologda, Archangel, Murmansk and Barentsburg, Arashan and Irkutsk, Ulan Ude and Kyakhta.  And we learn about lots of interesting people and things, such as the Vavilov brothers and the fate of science under Stalin, Varlam Shalamov, Dostoevsky, Mandelshtam…

Molotov

So far so enticing.

But I had severe problems with the book.  In spite of reading the beginning portion  twice,  I couldn’t really work out how the conceit of  Molotov”s magic lantern,  showing pictures of bygone times and places, defines the structure of the book:  I don’t think the locales chosen were necessarily either connected with Molotov or displayed by his magic lantern.  There were also many occasions when I had problems with the English:  this started at the very beginning, where Romanov Lane is called simply ‘Romanov’, which we don’t do in English and continued with such things as:

His chiselled gaze, straining over some imagined battlefield, meets the blank side wall of the Kremlin Hospital.  ‘So who is going to take Berlin, we or the Allies?’…(p 17)

‘Straining’ is right…chiselled gaze just doesn’t make sense and we or the Allies isn’t English.

Rachel Polonsky

I have the impression of a frightening number of such examples:  outwardly static but secretly moribund (p 17 again)–moribund implies static; lined with trophy art…brought back after the Soviet victory from the ransacked castles of East Prussia (p 28); in English that’s ‘looted art’, but then you really need to leave one of  ‘ransacked’ and ‘looted’ out since they’re saying the same thing; [human!] honey-makers (p 168); Anti-Semitic pogrom (p 171) [tautology];  bodies of children dead in infancy (p 234) [tautology]; drove past in his armoured car with the windows open (p 247) [presumably ‘bulletproof car’ rather than ‘wheeled tank’];  aquarelle portraits (p 350) [that’s ‘watercolour’ in English] and many many more…

As well as these lexical Russianisms, there are sentences where a non-English level of syntactic complexity leads to confusion (confused me at least), for example:

Of all the European magi of what was known as theory among the gatekeepers to the world of ideas who taught me in Cambridge twenty-five years ago, Benjamin is the only one I have read since with pleasure. (p 53)

This implies to me that Benjamin was in fact one of her teachers….

3 Romanov Lane--home of Molotov and of Rachel Polonsky

I also had problems with the content of the book.  For a start, there are many places where Polonsky describes pictures she has seen, or even herself in the act of photographing things, but there are no illustrations in the book.  How can that be?  Copyright problems (surely not for her own photos)?  Cost? I don’t understand…

For instance:  [Khaldei’s] lens absorbed the strange mineral gleam of the Kola in the shimmering reflections of seven caped and helmeted soldiers trudging past a pool of still water on the rocky shore (p 299).  And here we are:

Now that didn’t hurt, did it?

Again, there is no systematic  referencing.  So I came across many interesting facts and statements, without being able to follow them up.  Irritating, and I don’t think it would  have happened in a book published in the US.

So we are deprived of objective truth.  We are also deprived of subjective truth: Polonsky mentions her husband and children and a [female] companion who travels with her to sketch, and that’s about it.  One thing that we do learn is that she is very uneasy about the subject of prostitution (this is rather to her credit), but the uneasy euphemism of

The slender heels of Moscow’s loveliest demi-mondaines tap the pavenent as they make their way, shining for the evening in diamonds and air-soft sable skins, on a narrow pathway of granite flagstones set with green cat’s eyes, from the luxury health club in the basement of No. 4 to their chauffeur-driven cars (p 24)

doesn’t help anyone (and to me ‘slender heels’ are parts of a woman, not of shoes, while ‘skins’ in place of ‘furs’ causes similar confusion).

The mentions of Kontantin Simonov and Konstantin Rokossovsky only served to remind me of what a brilliant book The Whisperers is…

Note

The page numbers here refer to a hardcover edition from Faber UK published in 2010, ISBN 9780571237807.

Update

Since I posted this entry, Rachel Polonsky has emailed me to say that she doesn’t agree with the points I make above.  She will also be giving a talk based on the book on 31 March 2011 in Pushkin House; details here.

Lads in Their Hundreds: Free and very very good

May 23, 2010

*****

Rehearsal picture from guardian.co.uk

The title of this caught my eye since I had recently grown more sympathetic to A. E. Housman, and I went along for my first visit to Theatro Technis accompanied by my cold and headache but without any very great expectations.

In the event I was deeply impressed–the performers were students from GSMD, and the show consisted of four female singers and six male ones (and two pianists) performing songs and poems on the subject of war.  The songs were arranged so that (for instance) everyone got a turn in the title number (Butterworth’s setting of Housman) and even those whose native language was  not English speakers bravely contributed to the poetry.

What I found most effective were the changes of mood when music-hall songs were interpolated for contrast; the segue from Is he an Aussie, is he, Lizzie? to And the band played Waltzing Matilda; and the return of The lads in their hundreds at the end, transformed from song to poem, followed by Butterworth’s setting of With rue my heart is laden.  The cast showed absolute commitment to communicating with their audience in every way possible and no praise could be too high for them of for Iain Burnside, who devised and directed the whole thing.

There’s an interesting interview with Burnside here, and I’ve scanned in a list of the numbers below, together with some credits:

LADS IN THEIR HUNDREDS

Glyn Maxwell from My grandfather at the Pool
Butterworth With Rue my heart is laden
Butterworth The lads in their hundreds
Somervell The street sounds to the Soldiers’ tread
Wilfred Owen The Send-off
Elgar War Song
Jessie Pope Socks
Darewski Sister Susie’s sewing shirts for soldiers
Britten Slaughter
Carl Sandburg Grass
lreland Her Song
Siegfried Sassoon from Death-Bed
lreland The Cost
Brian Elias Meet me in the Green Glen
Butterworth ls my team ploughing
Butterworth Think no more, lad
lvor Gurney First Time ln
Trad arr Hazell Ar Hyd y Nos
Lincoln Kirstein Snatch
lves He is there!
Edward Rushton Life’s an ocean crossing
Kerry Dinneen from Kurdish Blankets
Edward Rushton Agony
Jimmy Webb Galveston
Richard Swanson Baghdad Email
Bridge Journey’s End
lreland The Soldier’s Return
Flotsam and Jetsam ls he an Aussie, is he, Lizzie?
Eric Bogle And the Band played Waltzing Matilda
AE Housman The lads in their hundreds
Butterworth With Rue my heart is laden

LADS IN THEIR HUNDREDS

Devised and directed by Iain Burnside

Victoria Newlyn Movement
Emma Belli Designer
Giuseppe Belli Designer
Jarnes Southby Lighting Designer
Pamela Lidiard Producer

Nazan Fikret Soprano
Katie Grosset Mezzo-soprano
Aurelia Jonvaux Soprano
Anna Livermore Soprano

lan Beadle Tenor
Adam Crockatt Tenor
Osian Gwynn Baritone
Barney Rea Bass
Ashley Riches Baritone
Luke Tracey Tenor

Maite Aguirre Pianist
Patrick Leresche Pianist

Jack Chandler Technical support
Fernando Pinho Technical support
Molly Sayers Technical support

Brooklyn (Colm Toibin)

May 20, 2010

****

Well I liked this book!  The background of drearily prospectless lower middle class life in the back of beyond, alleviated by the prospect of emigration, was all too familiar to me.

Plot (and spoilers)

So the story is that it’s the 1950s in Enniscorthy, Ireland, and Eilis is living at home with her widowed mother and studying bookkeeping, with no jobs to be had.  Her sister Rose is already 30 and not married, but keen on golf.

An Irish clergyman working in Brooklyn, Father Flood, plays golf with Rose on a visit home and suggests he can arrange something better for her.  Silence at a meeting in the living room means she has agreed.  She sets sail for Brooklyn, and is violently seasick on the way.  In Brooklyn, she lives in an Irish boarding house and works in an Italian clothing store.  After an attack of homesickness–Father Flood is called to the rescue–she also studies accountancy in the evenings.

She meets an Italian called Tony at one of Father Flood’s dances and they start going out together.  She meets his Italian family and sees how different they are.  Rose dies suddenly, Eilis turns to Tony for comfort–she thinks he needs her to need him–they end up in bed together.  That does not go unnoticed.

Eilis decides she must return for a while to comfort her mother.  Tony insists on them getting (secretly) married before she goes.  When she returns to Ireland, America is so far away and she is glamorous and sophisticated in the stay-at-homes’ eyes.  She gets the chance to exercise her bookkeeping skills in Rose’s old firm and is getting together with Jim Farrell, a young man with his own business, who had previously ignored her.

Then shrewish Miss Kelly, who had grudgingly given her work in her shop, summons her and says she knows she is no longer Miss Lacey.  Eilis tells her mother she married a man in America and sets off on the way back.

Discussion

I enjoyed the economical exposition very much–at the beginning we are introduced to Eilis, Rose and their mother and their situation within a page, and then the girl comes with a message from Miss Kelly and we’re off!  When we discussed this in Try Books! some people felt that there was too little description and in particular this left the character of Eilis both hard to grasp and hard to believe in.  But I do not agree–in fact, Eilis and Rose are almost to the life my mother and my Aunt Doreen except they’ve swapped some characteristics in the way that sisters will wear each other’s clothes.

There are some signs of symbolic realism:  Father Flood and Miss Kelly appear to represent opposite poles of something.  For instance, people are received in Miss Kelly’s shop with hostility, indifference, politeness or fawning depending on who they are and (to an extent) only allowed to buy what she thinks fit, while at Father Flood’s Christmas celebration everyone is welcome and fed the same food in large quantities.  Similarly, Miss Kelly sends round the girl for Eilis to brusquely tell her to come and work in the shop, while Father Flood sends her an elaborately courteous letter asking her if she might like to help out at Christmas.  But Father Flood seems to turn away from her after her ‘sin’ with Tony, while Miss Kelly is the agent of her being reunited with him.

The sea seems to have some significance as well–Eilis is violently seasick while Tony and Jim Farrell show their differences in contact with it.  Tony can’t swim and wants Eilis to be with him, while Jim is a strong swimmer but realises that Eilis wants to be left to swim on her own at least for a time–this is the same kind of tact as when Eilis realises that everyone coming into the Fiorello home must remark on how different Tony looks from the rest, and so she doesn’t.  So they really were made for each other.  Sad.

So Father Flood = Father + Flood?  He does for Eilis what her dead father would have, combined with what this water imagery means.  It must be the unplumbed salt estranging sea, so the violent seasickness and homesickness that Eilis suffers are the same thing, while Tony and Jim show their true natures in it, in the acid of estrangement, we see Tony’s weakness and that Jim is the one for her.

So she made the wrong choice in the end?–If it was precipitated by Miss Kelly, it must be under suspicion at least.  I did think that the point of the book was a kind of Jane Austen story with a young woman reconciling herself to the possible–but maybe I was mistaken.

Can we date the action of the story precisely?  It’s obviously in the 1950s.  When Tony takes Eilis to the baseball game she says the Dodgers are going to get revenge for what Bobby Thomson did to them the previous season.  Wikipedia says:  Thomson became a celebrity for hitting a game-winning home run in a playoff game, off of Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca, to win the 1951 National League pennant. So he took her to the game in 1952, and she arrived in 1951.

Maybe there were too many occasions where Eilis was the holy innocent–brought into contact with racial prejudice and the Holocaust and indeed anti-Italian prejudice so that she can show how far above it all she is.

The language was (for once!) accurate I thought.  There was genuine American speech from Miss Fortini:

–He doesn’t talk about himself all the time when he’s not telling you how great his mother is?

–No.

–Then you hold on to him, honey.  There aren’t two of them.  Maybe in Ireland, but not here.

and Irish from Patty:

–Well at least you don’t look like you’ve just come in from milking the cows any more.

–Did I look like that?

–Just a bit.  Nice clean cows.

Colm Toibin himself comes from Enniscorthy and his father was a teacher there.  Towards the end of the book, Jim and Eilis come across the retired teacher Mr Redmond.

–Where’s his son?  Eilis asked.

–Eamon?  He’s studying I’d say.  That’s what he usually does.

So maybe he’s put himself in his own book.  His family were active Republicans, so I wonder if Eilis being the only character allowed a specifically Irish (or indeed ethnic–Tony and his brothers all use anglicised versions of their names) means he especially approves of her?  Or again the fact that she has to cross the wide ocean tells us something about the radical loss associated with Irish emigration?

Hippolytus White Bear Theatre 19 May

May 20, 2010

*

A bit of a disaster!

Well, let’s look on the bright side.  There weren’t any flagrant cuts.  The set–whitewashed walls and a twisted tree thing–was perfectly sensible.  The costumes were generally serviceable, and the dress that Artemis wore at the end was truly lovely. In fact both Aphrodite and Artemis were effectively kitted out, with contrasting gold and silver paint on their faces, so we had ‘golden Aphrodite’ and Artemis with a crescent moon round her eye-socket.

Artemis (from Tough Theatre FB page)

And some of the performances were very good.  As Aphrodite (and one of the chorus), Charlotte Powell managed to get the light and colour and meaning into her lines that were missing from the adaptation by David Crook, and as Artemis Daphne Alexander was truly goddess-like at the end.  The young and cocky (rather than priggish) Hippolytus of Nick Lawson had his moments, as did the Chorus of Cameron Harris.

In fact, Charlotte Powell did an even better job of making something out of almost nothing than she did in the Yorkshire Tragedy a few months ago.

That’s about it.

On the minus side: the idea of treating Greek tragedy as a realistic story  of domestic mishaps is always wrong–Greek tragedy was a large-scale public event that explained how things are–and the new version grated severely on me as well.  The prevailing language was one of bureaucratic cliche–for all the characters.  So we had Phaedra talking of Ariadne’s pained and crisis-ridden relationship with Dionysus, and the most famous line –when Hippolytus says that his tongue was sworn and his heart unsworn when he made a promise to the Nurse–was rendered as I merely recited a formula.

And then strangely enough, as in the original, Theseus told the servants to unbar the doors [originally the doors of a hut thing at the back of the stage] so that he could see the body of Phaedra…and they brought her in on a litter, when there’s a door at the side of the White Bear stage that would have done perfectly well for her to stay hidden behind while Theseus registered shock, grief and anger.

Another photo from Tough Theatre FB page

Mike Aherne (Theseus) and Natasha Alderslade (Phaedra) were especially…unsuccessful…at making anything of the rubbish they were given to speak.  And there were strange directorial decisions: characters were rather too often addressing the back wall (or the far corner) rather than the audience, while I didn’t understand why the Nurse was using a generalised North Country accent to deliver the same kind of high-flown verbiage as the noble characters.

It would be unfair to mention the actors who fluffed their lines–I think that tomorrow is  Press Night, so this was in the nature of a preview perhaps.

Oh well.

The Roman Bath (Stanislav Stratiev) Arcola Theatre 15 May

May 16, 2010

***

Picture from Arcola site, with the help of Ctrl + Alt + PrtSc

A healthy crowd turned out for the £5 final matinee of this Bulgarian comedy.

The basic story is that the hero (Ivan Antonov) returns from holiday to find that a Roman bath has been discovered beneath the floor of his flat, and divers lowlifes and others want to profit from it.  Of course, since this is Communist-era Bulgaria there’s no question of him finding another place to live.  Hilarious consequences ensue, especially with the interruptions of the lifeguard, who has been appointed to make sure that nobody drowns in the swimming pool.

At the end, the other pretenders find themselves ousted by the local party cell, and the hero and his new girlfriend Martha, who started out as the fiancee of the ambitious archaeologist Vasilev MA, slip away to join the people, taking with them only a couple of mementoes of the the part Antonov’s family played in nthe revolutionary struggle.

So far so Nikolai Erdman–in Mandat some accommodation becomes unexpectedly available and various pretenders appear while in The Suicide a threatened suicide also attracts different factions wanting to claim it for themselves; in both cases it all ends with realising that the people is right.  So this one loses by not having the edge of desperation in the original situation and gains in the sheer absurdity of what goes on.

There was certainly plenty of  laughter from the £5 audience, though some people also did not return after the interval.  I thought that Ifan Meredith did well as the typical man-on-the-edge-of-a-nervous-breakdown comic here, while Rhona Croker as the love interest rather underplayed, and portrayed her changes of mood too matter-of-factly.  Contrariwise, I thought that Bo Poraj as the curator-of-fine-arts-come-spiv Banev pressed a bit too hard and didn’t give the jokes quite enough time to take effect.  Lloyd Woolf as the Lifeguard and Derek Schaal as the Party Rep were both very sound.

The design featured a load of crap in the middle of the indeterminate (but excessively large) black void that is Arcola Studio 1.  The lighting left Antonov’s face in the dark on a couple of occasions when we would have liked to have seen it.

So, not bad for £5, and I got the chance to try out the East London Line as well.

The Roman Bath for £5!

May 14, 2010

We have received an email as follows from the Arcola:

£5 per ticket
Only available on Saturday May 15 at 3pm

The Roman Bath
Studio 1
8pm (3pm Matinee)

This offer is not available online, please ring our box office on 020 7503 1646 to book.
For more information about The Roman Bath please click here.

Job 20:23

May 13, 2010
Our Hebrew class wondered why the Authorised Version deviated from the Hebrew text at the end of this verse, and whether it was down to Septuagint.
In the Hebrew text we have:

 יְהִ֤י׀ לְמַלֵּ֬א בִטְנֹ֗ו יְֽשַׁלַּח־בֹּ֖ו חֲרֹ֣ון אַפֹּ֑ו וְיַמְטֵ֥ר עָ֝לֵ֗ימֹו בִּלְחוּמֹֽו׃
(that may look very odd, depending on what fonts you have installed!)

The AV has:

23 When he is about to fill his belly, God shall cast the fury of his wrath upon him, and shall rain it upon him while he is eating.
(when the Hebrew would suggest….and will cause it to rain (it) upon him in his flesh.)

Septuagint has:

23. εἴ πως πληρώσαι γαστέρα αὐτοῦ ἐπαποστείλαι ἐπ’ αὐτὸν θυμὸν ὀργῆς νίψαι ἐπ’ αὐτὸν ὀδύνας

(If in some way he will fill his belly, [God] will send upon him a rage of anger to wash pains upon him–OR:…anger, [God] will wash pains upon him.)

The Vulgate has:

[23] utinam impleatur venter eius ut emittat in eum iram furoris sui et pluat super illum bellum suum
which I think is the same kind of thing, but with ‘rain’ for ‘wash’.
So the most reasonable explanation is that someone left out the waw in בִּלְחוּמֹֽו and decided to make it ‘at his food’ => while he was eating.