Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Robert Fagles

Here we go, poetry fans—a month of poetry suggestions. Like last year, I will do my best to write a little something every weekday about a book of poetry available at University Book Store.

Readers of the Classics may be aware that Robert Fagles, translator extraordinaire, passed away at the end of March. Let's kick off National Poetry Month with a climactic moment from his translation of The Iliad. Here, Priam begs for the body of his son Hector, slain by Achilles:

"Fifty sons I had when the sons of Achea came,
ninteen born to me from a single mother's womb
and the rest by other women in the palace. Many,
most of them violent Ares cut the knees from under.
But one, one was left me, to guard my walls, my people—
the one you killed the other day, defending his fatherland,
my Hector! It's all for him I've come to the ships now,
to win him back from you—I bring a priceless ransom.
Revere the gods, Achilles! Pity me in my own right,
remember your own father! I deserve more pity...
I have endured what no one on earth has ever done before—
I put to my lips the hands of the man who killed my son."

A story I've heard: when the writer John Gardner rejected his post-modern leanings, he claimed that artists and writers should aspire to the spirit of the above moment.

In response, John Barth (I think it was Barth) said artists and writers should instead aspire to the moment in Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage when Aeneas weeps over a statue of Priam begging for the body of Hector.

Thanks for all your hard work, Robert Fagles.

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