Archive for August, 2012

The Illusion (Pierre Corneille/Tony Kushner), Southwark Playhouse 3.15 pm 25 August

August 25, 2012


This was described as an adaptation of Pierre Corneille by Tony Kushner, but I think it was more like ‘by Tony Kushner after Corneille’.

Anyway, accompanied by my cold I climbed to my favourite spot a long way from the stage and by some railings so that I could rest with my eyes closed if it all became too much for me.

What happens in the play is that Pridamant, a rich lawyer, resorts to the cave of Alcandre, a witch, in search of intimations of the fate of his son who he cast out 15 years ago.  So Alcandre shows him scenes from the son’s life as an adventurer, convict, and lover-not-wisely-but-too-well.  These led me to recall that I did know something about Corneille and this kind of blood-thunder-and-bombast was rather what I expected.  In fact, I found quite a few opportunities to rest my eyes and consider whether the water leaking onto wiring at the back of the hall might promise something more exciting.  Also I found I couldn’t always understand what Daisy Hughes as the love interest was saying–the unengaging acting of these episodes might have been deliberate, but I don’t think that was.

I did enjoy the by-play between Alcandre (Melanie Jessop) and Pridamant (James Clyde), where he complained about what he was being shown and if she was particularly well-disposed she would strike the floor with her stick and bring about a change in the action.  Melanie Jessop and (sometimes) Shanaya Rafaat as the love-interest’s serving-maid dominated the stage and riveted the attention in a way the other players didn’t match.  I should add that the production (directed by Sebastian Harcombe) was always perfectly clear and you could always tell who was supposed to be who and what they were meant to be doing.

So at the end…we got some reflections on theatre and illusion.  And I was quite interested; not so much by questions of illusion and love but more in how much this text differed from that of Corneille.  The answer seems to be really quite a lot:  a sex change for Alcandre, prose instead of verse, and essentially a new character in Alcandre’s Calibanic servant to start off with.  Also Alcandre’s monologue about love–an illusion–being more real than earth and iron, which I took to be the centrepiece of the play, seems to be original with Kushner.  I think what he’s done is to try to produce something actable, pleasant and interesting and rather lost Corneille’s attempt to display complicated literary-philosophical arguments by instantiating them in a play.

I think.

The programme cost £ 2 for 4 pages, and no adverts for private schools.  At least someone (Pridamant) had been in The Bill, so those standards were maintained.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Brockley Jack 23 August

August 23, 2012


Rehearsal photo from Perfect Shadow Mingled Yarn’s Facebook page

O, how this spring of love resembleth
The uncertain glory of an April day,
Which now shows all the beauty of the sun,
And by and by a cloud takes all away!

That’s what’s called mise en abyme even in Brockley–part of the work reflects describes or encompasses the whole.  We had flashes of brilliance and forebodings of genius from Shakespeare and a very good production from Perfect Shadow Mingled Yarn.  Fraser Wall as Proteus in his crotch-hanging cerise trousers and looking very beautiful well portrayed the rawness, grace, clumsiness and inconstancy of youth and Elliot Fitzpatrick was also very good and slightly more firm of purpose as Valentine.  I enjoyed the use of manic music and foregrounded scene changes to emphasise the mad impetuosity of youth and the 70s-style office furniture and drinks on trays everywhere to serve the unendurable tedium of the grown-up world.  (Was that a reference to Mad Men, taken with the tailoring?–looked like a slightly later period to me.)

Most of the things I was looking forward to seeing worked very well–in its place, Who is Sylvia? what is she was unbearably affecting, though or because Proteus wasn’t really singing.  And it had an earlier unscheduled outing as Who is Julia? just to show what lying hounds men are.  Crab turned out to be merely a stuffed toy dog, which was a bit of a let-down for the biggest animal role in Shakespeare.

But  Yes Yes Yes Yes I say

Good Good Good Good

Go Go Go Go.


Are Translations Better?

August 16, 2012

It is perfectly reasonable to ask whether translations are ‘better’ than books originally written in English. After all, as well as the writer writing the book and the original publisher publishing it, someone has to decide that translating it is worthwhile, so you would expect the barrier the book has to get over to be higher.

The table below shows books rated by members of our book group in descending order, with the translations marked.

If This Is a Man / The Truce 9.00
The Boy with the Topknot 9.00
Skin Lane 8.75
A Prayer for Owen Meany 8.75
Lady Audley’s Secret 8.50
The Night Watch 8.00
This Thing of Darkness 8.00
The Help 8.00
The Last Hundred Days 8.00
Fear and Trembling 8.00
Eugenie Grandet 8.00
Family Romance: A Love Story 7.75
Visitation 7.75
Star of the Sea 7.75
One Day 7.50
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society 7.50
Death and the Penguin 7.50
American Wife 7.50
Brooklyn 7.25
After You’d Gone 7.00
Bad Science 7.00
The White Woman on the Green Bicycle 7.00
The Reluctant Fundamentalist 7.00
Norwegian Wood 7.00
The Master and Margarita 7.00
Last Man in Tower 6.75
The Shadow Of The Wind 6.50
Moby-Dick or, The Whale 6.50
Complicity 6.50
Stone’s Fall: A Novel 6.50
Youth 6.25
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher 6.25
The Story of Forgetting 6.00
Legend of a Suicide 6.00
Reading Lolita in Tehran 6.00
The Canterbury Tales: A Retelling by Peter Ackroyd 6.00
Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence 6.00
Anna of the Five Towns 6.00
Skippy dies 6.00
The Monkey Wrench Gang 6.00
The Fall of the Imam 6.00
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies 5.50
The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories 5.25
Broken April 5.00
In Search of the Missing Eyelash 5.00
Human Traces 5.00
Me Cheeta: The Autobiography 5.00
Day After Night 4.75
The Resurrectionist 2.75

As already stated, the table above shows the Try Books!  books for which members’ marks are available arranged in order of the median of those marks and with the translations marked in turquoise.  There is no obvious sign of the translations being clustered towards the top of the table.

If we want to be naughty and treat these values as statistical variables we can apply a t-test (one-tailed, heteroscedastic) to the means of these medians.  We get a mean of 7.00 for the translations and 6.71 for the English-language works and a t-value of 0.25, which is clearly a very long way from being significant.

So we conclude  that there is no evidence of translations being better than books originally written in English on the basis of this data.

Texts for Advanced Greek at Madingley Hall in 2013

August 10, 2012

Apollo and Python

Madingley have written as follows:

There are four Reading Greek weekends planned for the following dates:
15 – 17 February 2013
24 – 26 May 2013
13 – 15 September 2013
29 November – 1 December 2013
Details of the texts to be studied during each weekend are shown belo

15 – 17 February
Homer, Odyssey 10 [ed. Stanford 1-12, Bristol Classical Press, £20]; both groups.
24 – 26 May
Homeric Hymn to Apollo [in Three Homeric Hymns, ed. Richardson, CUP green-and-yellow, £20.99] + possibly some unseen translation of the Aphrodite hymn.
Thucydides 4.1-41 [ed. Cress & Wordsworth, CUP £13.95]
13 – 15 September
Sophocles, Antigone 1-680 [ed.Griffith, CUP green-and-yellow £21.99 or ed. Brown, Aris & Phillips £18 or ed. Jebb, Bristol Classical Press £18]
Herodotus, selections from Book 1, 1-52 [ed. Sleeman, Bristol Classical Press, £16.99]
29 November – 1 December
Sophocles, Antigone 681-1353 [as above]
Herodotus 53 -94 [as above]

SACE Ancient Worlds Summer School

August 8, 2012

Animated discussion at break-time

The first week of the SACE Ancient Worlds Summer School included language courses in Sanskrit (which was a bit disorganised) and Akkadian (which was excellent), or alternatively lectures based on current research in Egyptology.

We were surprised to see that the potentially 20 sessions for the two languages were reduced to 17, two of the missing ones being taken up with a ‘visit’ to a museum that was closed–so there was a handling session instead.  The schedule is shown in the picture below:

In another location, the masses showed their opinion of student hall catering:

We do Akkadian in 7 hours

August 4, 2012

So this is how we did Akkadian in seven hours:

Session 1: Hammurabi (1792 BC –1750 BC) consolidated Babylonian power.  His laws are good reading for beginners since they follow a set structure.  The nominal sentence with -ma, verb statives, independent pronoun.

Session 2:  Expressing possession with the particle ša, pronominal suffixes, the construct state.  Some exercises.  We also write cuneiform on clay tablets using extra-large matches somewhere around here.

Session 3:  Some books on Akkadian and Ancient Mesopotamia.  Triconsonantal roots.  Adjectives and nouns.

Session 4:  The G stem of strong verbs.  Subj-Obj-Ind Obj-Verb.

Session 5: The G D  Š and N stems.  Weak verbs (verbs with a weak stem consonant).

Session 6:  We translate some of the Laws of Hammurabi, like the following:

šumma awīlum īn mār awīlim uhtappid īnšu uhappadū

if a man the eye of the son of a man has blinded his eye they will blind

Session 7: We read some cuneiform Laws of Hammurabi from clay tablets kindly manufactured by Hannah for this very purpose.

Commentary:  That was excellent!  We were well impressed at how our tutor Hannah Johnson had prepared a great variety of materials and used a variety of approaches in putting the subject across, along with being very nice about it all.  It turned out to be the first time she had taught Akkadian, so we felt especially honoured.

Most of the material used can be found on the Internet here.

What did we do in 10 hours of Sanskrit in Liverpool?

August 2, 2012

It remains far away!

That’s a good question.

The short answer would be that we got a commentary to the first four chapters of  Coulson’s Complete Teach Yourself Sanskrit, with the idea that we could then proceed under our own steam.  As our instructor pointed out, Coulson’s book really presupposes a reader who already knows their Latin and/or Greek, thus giving them the basic structure, and merely needs to have the peculiarities of Sanskrit pointed out.  As someone else pointed out, another feature of Coulson is that the rather small format means that the paradigms aren’t set out in nice large reassuring tables but are instead rather difficult to comprehend.

The approach also involved bringing into play the material in the appendices at the back of the book, rather than just the text at the front.

So here’s the content of the sessions (each of which occupied one hour).  There were seven in the group and at least in the instructor’s opinion we didn’t need any explanation of the traditional terminology of ‘grammar’.

Session 1:  Position of Sanskrit as ancient Indo-European language.  Not used for everyday purposes.  Ignore devanagari script.

Session 2:  Present indicative active of thematic verbs.  Vowel gradation (guna, vrdhhi).

Session 3:   To be (asmi/bhu) pres ind act.  Pres ind act of gam and stha.  Sandhi and use of sandhi grid.

Session 4:  Paradigm of nouns in -a: nom, acc, instr, dat, abl, gen, loc, voc; singular, plural and dual.  (Something seems to have happened to the duals of phala and kanya.)

For our homework, we did Exercise 2b from Coulson in the Roman transliteration version.  That was quite feasible, though required a definite effort.

Session 5:  First and second person personal pronouns (again without the dual, but in all the cases).

Session 6:  Imperfect of asma.  Compounds.  Some applications of sandhi.

Session 7:  Declension of adjectives (in -a).

Session 8:  Past participles.  Use of these in place of finite verbs as characteristic of Sanskrit.

Our homework was (the romanised version of) Exercise 3b from Coulson.  Only one person had sufficient morale to apply the time-honoured procedure of writing out all the questions and then underneath them the answers from the back of the book.

Section 9:  Our instructor went through the homework.

Session 10:  Our instructor went through the first few (17) lines from the Tale of Nala from the Mahabharata, identifying the words and parsing them.

As for texts for further study, our tutor mentioned Ramopakhyana – The Story of Rama in the Mahabharata by Peter Scharf, together with  The Sanskrit Language by Maurer and Fields and A Sanskrit Grammar by Manfred Mayrhofer.

Conclusion:  That was all rather disorganised.  We were disappointed to see the ‘four contact hours per day’ become 10 contact hours over 3 days, with Wednesday afternoon a half-holiday.  But it was useful to be told which were the more and less important parts of Coulson and how much attention (not) to pay to learning the rules of sandhi in detail.