Greece


Odysseus taunts Polyphemus
Image from litmuse used under a Creative Commons license.

Homer, The Odyssey (Penguin Classics, 1999).
The epic poem attributed to Homer should need no recommendation — it is a, uh, classic.  I read the edition translated by Robert Fagles, and I just loved it. The introduction by Bernard Knox is quite useful, and this edition helpfully includes maps showing the locations of various places mentioned in the text.  A trip to Greece seems like just the excuse to read this, and don’t feel you need to read The Iliad first.

Perhaps this is as close as we’ll ever get to a bio of Homer.  On the other hand, Ranjit Bolt reviews a recent biography of Homer, and here is the estimable Mary Beard on the same book.  Here is Wikipedia’s page about Fagles.  Zack Stentz interviewed Fagles upon the book’s release.  David Meadows has his obituary; here is Ruth Stevens at Princeton.  Wikipedia’s entry on The Odyssey has much to offer.  Chrees collected a bunch of interesting resources, including this lecture by Ian Johnston. Google Book Search previews the Fagles translation. Here is Samuel Butler’s translation. Google Book Search offers a taste of a 1905 translation by J.W. MacKail.  Or, if you prefer, here is Simon Armitage’s more recent dramatic version.  From Southern Utah University, here is an introduction to Homer and The Odyssey.  Richard Jenkyns (The New York Times) calls this translation a memorable achievement.  David R. Slavitt (Bryn Mawr Classical Review)applauds Fagles’ stately and natural voice.  Rebecca Reid liked the Fagles translation but didn’t love it.  Paul Gray (Time) writes that Fagles vividly conveys the sense of stories being read aloud.  Calon Lan calls it a story for all time. Stephen Goode (Insight on the News) says it’s hard to put down. James Higgs prefers it to other translations.Jon Aquino says people thinks it’s one of the best translations.  Matt Cahill says it will intimidate you from the shelf but it moves at a fast clip. Riz listened to Ian McKellan’s narration. Alexander Nazaryan blogs about wine in The Odyssey. Here is an astronomical perspective. Elizabeth Farnsworth interviewed Fagles for PBS’s NewsHour, and Fagles answered viewers’ questions.  You can listen to this conversation between Fagles and C.K. Williams, or read excerpts of it.  This is how the book would read had it been written on Twitter.  Listen to this BBC program on The Odyssey.

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Meteora XXIII
Photo of Meteora by Daniel Skoog used under a Creative Commons license.

Patrick Leigh Fermor, Roumeli (NYRB, 2006).
Now knighted and in his nineties, Leigh Fermor first made his way to Greece in the 1930s, after walking from Holland to Istanbul, or, as he calls it Constantinople.  During World War II he fought in the British Army in Greece and with the resistance on Crete.  He still lives in the Mani, and one could not hope for a more engaging and informed guide to the country and culture, Hellenic and Byzantine.  Unlike Mani, which explored a particular corner of the Peloponnese, different chapters of Roumeli relate travels all over the country: with the Sarakatsan shepherds, the monasteries of Meteora, during wartime in the mountain villages of Crete, in the villages of Krakora, and to Missilonghi, where he tried to recover a pair of Lord Byron’s slippers.    

Wikipedia has this bio of Leigh Fermor. Google BookSearch offers a preview. Ben Downing writes about Fermor in The New Criterion. William Dalrymple visited him recently. James Campbell profiles him in The Guardian.  Jeremy Bernstein profiles him in the Los Angeles Times.  Max Hastings profiles him in the Telegraph. Mary Beard reviews Roumeli and two of Fermor’s other books in the London Review of Books.  Heather likes Leigh Fermor’s wonderfully precise prose.  Marie found it too turgid.  Languagehat traces some archetypes of the Greek temperament back to Roumeli.  Maggie Rainey-Smith describes meeting Leigh Fermor.  Typoios posts a favorite passage; Ptolemy has one too.  Here is more about the Sarakatsani and the monasteries of Meteora.

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Villaggio Mani
Photo of a Maniot village by sasix75 used under a Creative Commons license.

Patrick Leigh Fermor, Mani (NYRB, 2006).

The Mani is the southernmost peninsula in Greece, cut off from the rest of the country by mountains and bounded by the Aegean and Ionian Seas. When Fermor traveled there in the 1950s, there was no road through the mountains, forcing him to get around by boat and foot. One could not ask for a better guide: Fermor has an encyclopedic knowledge of ancient history and languages and was a veteran of partisan campaigns in Crete during World War II. He is equally comfortable relating Byzantine history and visiting with Maniot peasants, and his Greece teems with ancient myths, Frankish castles, Byzantine ikons and Ottoman battlefields. First published in 1958, Mani has been reissued by NYRB. If you aren’t planning to visit Mani, this book will have you buying tickets.

Fermor describes seeing Mani for the first time, and later moving there. Ben Downing writes about Fermor in The New Criterion. Max Hastings profiles him in the Telegraph. Mary Beard reviews Mani and two of Fermor’s other books in the London Review of Books. Time reviewed Mani in 1960. Lettrice liked it, too. Heidi Fuller-Love rented a car to retrace Fermor’s steps. Diana Farr Lewis, in The Athens News, offers this primer on Mani. John Chapman offers an impressive guide and history of Mani. His bibliography has much to say about Fermor’s book. Robert Eisner traveled in Mani after reading Fermor. So did Paul Barker. And John Launer.

Buy this book at Amazon.com.