Oldest Extract of ‘The Odyssey’, Longest Painting in North America, and a Bioluminescent Sea


Happy Wednesday, everybody. I’m expecting a couple of books today—Dana Gioia’s 99 Poems, which I ordered for a friend, and Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. I love Stegner but have never read Crossing, so I’m looking forward to getting started on it after dinner tonight. By the way, it’s wonderful to receive books in the mail, isn’t it? I love browsing bookstores, but waiting for and receiving books in the mail comes with its own (longstanding) pleasures. So next time you read about another bookstore closing, don’t be too hard on Amazon. It is both a new and not so new way of buying books.

Let’s start with the best news, shall we? The earliest extract of The Odyssey may have been discovered—on a third-century clay tablet in Greece: “The tablet was discovered after three years of surface excavations by the Greek Archaeological Services in co-operation with the German Institute of Archaeology. It was found close to the remains of the Temple of Zeus at the site of the Olympic Games in the western Peloponnese.”

The original sketch of Winnie-the-Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood has been sold. It was drawn by E. H. Shepard in 1926 and “has set a world record for a book illustration sold at auction” at £430,000.

Death may have stopped for Roy Orbison, but it hasn’t stopped him from touring (and his estate from making money): “The iconic native of Vernon will entertain audiences in a non-corporeal form at theaters, concert halls, and auditoriums across North America in his 28-date tour, concluding with a residency in Branson, Missouri, the kitsch performance capital of the Midwest.”

The longest painting in North America, The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World (ca. 1848), which is 1,275 feet long, will go back on display for the first time in over half a century.

You could buy Adam Fisher’s new book, The Valley of Genius: The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley (As Told by the Hackers, Founders, and Freaks Who Made It Boom), or you could read two long excerpts—one in Vanity Fair on Google and one in Wired on Facebook—which is probably two more than you need to glut your interest in awkward college graduates playing beer pong, coding, and hanging out at Burning Man.

You probably already knew this, but if not: Nonprofit magazine funding skews left.

Essay of the Day:

In the latest issue of Literary Matters, Rachel Hadas writes about what it means to translate a work faithfully:

“On a muggy morning in Corfu, at Ionian University, some of whose departments are housed in what, if I understand correctly, was once a lunatic asylum, I find myself in a classroom drawing an arc from left to right across a whiteboard. The marker’s running out of ink – a familiar dilemma that brings back One Washington Park, the Business School building at Rutgers-Newark where I taught only last week and will teach again next week. I enjoy smuggling a literature course into this building under the radar of finance. My literature students are the outliers at the Business School; the black-suited business majors rarely make eye contact in the elevators. An aging poet like me is invisible. But here on a Greek island, in this long, narrow classroom, all eyes seem to be fixed on what I’m scribbling.

“Paschalis, our host, has scurried out to fetch a fresh marker, so I can finish what I’m putting on the board. The marker he now hands me is black, but a rainbow would have been more appropriate than this monochrome line to convey the blurry gradations, the endless degrees and compromises and subtypes, that translation entails. On the far left of the arc I write LITERAL/WORD FOR WORD. ‘The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life,’ is how some versions translate Paul’s words in the third chapter of 2 Corinthians. I’m tempted to write this sentence on the whiteboard; if the Greek were at my fingertips, I’d write it out as well. But I dismiss that idea (no time for it) while my hand is still busily writing.

“Is a word-for-word translation ever even possible? The better we know the source language, the more choices and possibilities we see, and the more obstacles and ambiguities crop up. The rising arc as I sketch it takes us toward a middle ground – a kingdom of compromise between literal and what Paschalis at dinner last night called licentiousness. This middle realm – isn’t it where most of us live? If we’re conversing in another language, we fumble along some invisible line of demarcation near the middle of the range of possible renderings. If we’re translating a text, how close to the literal do we want to stick, even if we could? The separate words, the connotations of the original: how close can we approach to these, even supposing we know what they are?”

Read the rest.

Video: Bioluminescent sea in Wales

Poem: William Cullen, Jr., “Posing for a Photo after a Stroke”

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