There’s a quote from one of my favorite lecturers, Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver, that I think perfectly sums up why I decided to read The Classics:
"I think many of the stories that we tell ourselves as a society—the stories that encode our hopes, aspirations, and fears—preserve the traces of classical culture and myth and are part of our classical legacy."
I came to The Classics for so many reasons. I wanted to learn more about art and art history. I wanted to learn about American politics at a time when I found them to be rather confusing (and still do). I wanted to learn more about the core reasons why we tell ourselves certain stories and how they have formed our society. I wanted to learn about the history of the Mediterranean and how that sea was a hub for so many cultural happenings. I wanted to know more about mythology and spirituality. I wanted to have more reasons to travel to gather inspiration for my jewelry. I also wanted to read more and see what I could do in terms of learning without having to pursue another college degree.
All of these reasons directed me to The Classics. I had to read The Iliad and The Odyssey. I couldn't get very deep into any of my studies without first reading those epic poems.
Ugh. I remember thinking they were incredibly daunting and boring and there was no way I could get through them. Have you ever cracked open one of those books and then just put it back on the bookshelf to collect dust? Yeah, I'd done that so many times and couldn't understand why these texts were so prevalent, and important, and seemingly everywhere. Why were these books everywhere? Why were they in every bookstore, on everyone's shelves, in coffee shops, in some of the hostels I stayed at, their stories being referenced in tons of paintings and plays and literature, even influencing business names? I just could not understand their allure.
I can't emphasize this enough, but a good translation of these books goes a very long way. It took me a while to understand why a current translation was so important but any translator before the 1930s is using language that we don't particularly use today. It thus makes reading the Homeric epics so much harder because you're translating twice in a sense. You have to translate what the translator is saying into modern day language while also hoping you're catching the drift of what was written 2800 years ago. The translator I found most readable was Robert Fagles. You can find his translation of The Iliad by clicking here and the translation of The Odyssey by clicking here.
Reading Along with a Lecturer
Even with a good translation, these books are still very hard to read on their own. You miss a lot of important details if you don't have some sort of a guide. The lecturer I mentioned above is so thorough and makes these books a joy to read. She's through each chapter and does a quick overview, points out what to look for, and makes learning fun. Her passion for The Classics definitely shows through each lecture and I really enjoyed listening to them on my walks or in the studio. I listened to The Iliad lecture, The Odyssey lecture, The Aeneid lecture, and the one on Herodotus. I wouldn't know so much if it weren't for these lectures.
I'm all about looking for fun twists on Ancient History. There are endless amounts of references to these books throughout the millennia if you look for them. It's like you have to read the books first and then you'll start to see how many artists have used the Homeric epics in their work. A whole world unfolds and the learning of these stories can stay with you for a lifetime. One thing I recently watched was this Dolce & Gabbana fashion show where they reinterpreted historical clothing. I loved that the show also took place at Temple of Concordia in Agrigento, Italy. I can't tell you though how many times since reading The Classics, that I've become pleasantly surprised to now see all these references.
That's all for now, thanks so much for reading.
Rome, February 2020