Sunday, October 4, 2009

First Thoughts on the Aeneid -- and more

Four days into "Roman October" and I don't have a ton to show for it in the reading department. I have managed to finish the first book of the Aeneid and am nearly done with a slim book called "The Collapse and Recovery of the Roman Empire" by Michael Grant.

On The Aeneid, I do not feel at all qualified to critique this hallowed and ancient piece of literature -- and yet I will. Personally, this first of its twelve books has left me cold. Perhaps it is the translation, but it simply does not ring "epic" in my ears, nor does it jump out as a masterpiece. Furthermore, I can already see that it leans towards real history and away from the exciting mythical aspects that color Homer's works and modern children's books alike, which comes as a bit of a disappointment to me.

I will, of course, stick it out to the end. I have no qualms about setting down an acknowledge classic (everyone has different tastes, I say) but this one has too much going for it in my eyes. It is quite possibly the pinnacle of Roman literature and I feel I should have read it long ago. If I can spend so much time reading my usual trash, I suppose I can free some space in my schedule for a classic or two.

But now, from classic to trash. Michael Grant, well-known and acclaimed writer of books on Ancient Greece and Rome for the popular audience, apparently likes money. At least enough to charge exorbitant amounts for many of his books. In particular, this 150-page hardback, "The Collapse and Recovery of the Roman Empire," costs $30 and is basically a recycling ground for some of the author's previous work. If you were to tally the number of original words Grant wrote for this book, (not including the appendix) I am sure they would fill less than twenty pages.

Organizationally, the book is an absolute mess -- he repeats himself to the point of disgrace. And the book never goes anywhere: he says basically the same thing in the Epilogue as in the Introduction and I, the reader, am not in the least convinced by his conclusions. These assertions are not particularly radical, but he does a terrible job of proving them with, you know, facts and words and stuff.

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