Monday, March 10, 2008

2008 Lenten Read-a-Thon Day 34



Speaking of which....

New Complete Works of Josephus, translated by William Whiston and edited by Paul L. Maier. Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids): 1999. ISBN: 0-8254-2924-2. 1142 pages. $24.99.

Now that our grossly unpopular Lenten Read-a-Thon has just about halved the blog's traffic (people apparently expect to see some science fiction on this science fiction blog), I must say that the siege of Jerusalem has put me in mind of another siege in another great work of literature. I mean, specifically, the siege of Troy in The Iliad (which I refuse to read in any translation but Pope's, much as I refuse to read the Arabian Nights in any translation but Burton's).

The Iliad is evidence of the singular fact that, if you are a great literary genius, you can get away with any amount of idiocy in your writing. I do not mean to say that Homer is himself an idiot or even that his Iliad is itself idiotic; nay, rather, Homer is a great poet and the Iliad a great poem, but there can be no denying that it is a great poem about great idiots.

I don't even mean that Agamemnon and Achilles are a couple of dislikable hotheads; I expect to meet hotheads in a lengthy poem that dwells on graphic violence. What I mean, rather, is the way these morons go about committing said graphic violence.

Do you realize that the Greeks sat in front of Troy in their boats for nine years before it occurred to any of them that it might be a good idea to put up some fortifications? And how about the Trojans, who sat in their city for nine years before someone finally said, "This kinda blows. What say we go out and fight those Greeks?"

And why is it that none of these herculean men, who could hurl gigantic boulders at each other, pierce multiple layers of armor with their thrown javelins, and build monumental architecture overnight, had not the capacity to construct even a primitive siege engine? For nine years, the Greeks sat in their boats in front of Troy, confounded by the presence of a wall, and for nine years, the Trojans sat behind that wall, confounded by the presence of Achilles. Why didn't any of the Trojans build something to hit Achilles from a safe distance while he was posturing out on the plain? And why didn't any of the Greeks say, "Y'know, last night I had this idea--we like to throw stones at each other, right? How about we build a sort of gadget that can throw stones over that wall? Or better yet, how about a movable tower, as high as the wall--and we could even put men in it, who could climb over the wall...."

I mean, honestly!

(And I refuse to read The Aenid in any translation but Dryden's. That makes me, so I understand, a 1697 Dryden-only Virgil-believer.)
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